Randy’s Review ‘Hostile’

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Western offers new twist of cowboys, Indians tale

A battle scarred captain is ordered to escort a former adversary back to his tribal burial ground to die in “Hostiles,” a nice twist on the Western genre.

Capt. Joe Blocker (Christian Bale) is a legendary member of the Calvary, tracking, killing and capturing Indians in the New Mexico region. After having rounded up the last of an escaped Apache family, he returns for Fort Berringer with his assembled troop and his captors.

We learn a bit about Blocker and his unit during a candlelight dialogue between the captain and a longtime confidant, 1st Sgt. Thomas Metz. Metz is worn down from years of battle and taking lives, and feels his time as a soldier is drawing near after being relieved of his firearms. The two reminisce about lost friends, the good old days of vengeance and killing savages.

The next morning Blocker is called into Col. Abraham Biggs office and assigned his next duty, escorting cancer-riddled Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to his ancestral burial grand in Valley of the Bear, Montana. Yellow Hawk and his warriors, in his more formidable days, killed soldiers close to Blocker — many right in front of him — before he was captured. Yellow Hawk and his family, including son Black Hawk (Adam Beach), daughter-in-law Elk Woman (Q’orianka Kilcher), grandson Little Bear (Xavier Horsechief) and daughter Living Woman (Tanaya Beatty) have been in captivity for seven years. Now, sensing death is near, Yellow Hawk petitioned to be taken back to his home for burial. President Harrison granted the request and now Blocker is assigned to the task as the only man Biggs believes can see it through.

Blocker initially refuses the assignment adamantly at risk of court martial and loss of pension after 20 years. Biggs tells him this will be his final assignment before discharge and insists that he follow the orders. Tortured by the idea, Blocker reassembles his team including Metz, Corp. Woodson (Jonathan Majors) and a couple of new faces Lieutenant Kidder (Jesse Plemons), a new arrival from West Point, and Private “Frenchie” (Timothee Chalamet). After a pomp and circumstance send off for the media, Blocker orders the family chained and the braids removed from the females hair.

During the early stages of the journey, the travelers discover a burned farm where a father and children have been savagely murdered by a Comanche war party. Remaining is the wife and mother, Rosalie (Rosamund Pike). Still in shock from the incident, Blocker and his team secure the bodies and escort her from the farm to their encampment. Seeing Yellow Hawk and his family upon arrival, she is immediately traumatized but Blocker assures her they will not harm her.

After burying her family, Rosalie joins the party until the next stop in Colorado. Challenges along the way include confrontations with the Comanche war party, fur traders and the addition of a military prisoner who previously served with Blocker and questions the captain’s course of action on the journey.

Along the way, Blocker is forced reluctantly to trust Yellow Hawk and his family to combat their common foes and finds that the two men aren’t too different after all, just fighting for the opposite side, each with many skeletons in their closet and lost friends in their memories.

“Hostiles” is a slow burn. A beautifully shot movie that uses its landscapes to help tell the journey and often times allowing imagery rather than words to convey the message of the film. It was definitely a different style of Western and one which has won a place near the top films of its genre. Excellent acting across the board — from the angry, brooding and untrusting Blocker who justifies his brutality as “his job,” to the quiet, pained war chief coming to grips with his end — and a unique story told by director and writer Scott Cooper in the setting of 1892 frontier life.

On a scale of 5 popcorn buckets, “Hostiles” tops off 4 1/2 buckets of slow-popped, perfectly seasoned corn over an open fire. Delicious from start to finish, the tale of 1892 frontier violence between the Calvary and Indian tribal war parties becomes a story of compassion, forgiveness and understanding. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 2 hours, 13 minutes. This film was reviewed at Southpark 7 Theatres in Spencer.