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by Derek Deskins
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Dec 22, 2017

Before 2015's "Black Mass," writer-director Scott Cooper was proving himself to be something of an actor's director. He made films that were driven by character, often making for interesting opportunities to explore the depth of a person. But where he excelled with character, he struggled to assemble compelling narratives, leaving his films feeling just short of great. After his brief for-hire gig recounting the tale of Whitey Bulger, Cooper now returns to penning his films with "Hostiles," and the results are just a bit better than what came before.

In the American Southwest of 1892, Army Captain Joseph Blocker is a legend when it comes to dealing with the native tribes. He is not shy in his disdain for the "savages," and prides himself on his legacy of clearing the land of their presence. So, when his commanding officer comes to him with a mission to return a Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hawk, and his family to their homeland in Montana, he is more than a bit reluctant. Under the threat of court martial, he agrees to take a small group to safely deliver the family home, through lands made hostile by cutthroat Comanches and violent racism.

Scott Cooper has shown that when it comes to his central characters, he knows how to craft and build them. This time around, Cooper reteams with Christian Bale to continue the great work that the pair did in "Out of the Furnace." "Hostiles" is entirely Bale's film, and his Captain Joe is fantastically dense and nuanced without screaming for attention. Bale imbues the character with unspoken depth, often relying more on what goes unsaid, even when hidden behind an impressive moustache. But where Bale excels, crafting a character that is more broken than the others can see, the rest of the cast is left wanting.

Part of the problem is that "Hostiles" is hopelessly overcrowded. The number of characters within this film that is largely about a small troupe traveling across America, is puzzling. But it isn't that the other characters don't live up to the care that is afforded to Bale's Joe, for he is the central character and that is to be expected to some extent. It is the chasm that exists between Joe and all others. Despite having a truly impressive cast, none of the other characters are offered a chance to shine (with the slight exception of Rosamund Pike's Rosalie, who despite a fantastic opening goes largely unutilized). Cooper treats his other characters as "Star Trek" red-shirts, individuals whose primary purpose is to die in hopes of moving the story forward.

The disparity between the depths of different characters' development leaves the audience detached from the proceedings. Rather than feeling a pang of sadness when one is unceremoniously dispatched, you are typically left trying to remember just what their name was. This shows up especially when Bale is particularly moved by a death. It affords the film an uneven pacing, as old characters are discarded and new ones introduced, often with little being said. Perhaps, Cooper was striving for an authenticity of the time, when soldiers were traded like pawns, but in execution it robs the film of its potential punch.

But let's take a step back from the trappings of character and plot, for what the film is able to put on the screen is, without question, fantastic. The cinematography of Masanobu Takayanagi is breathtaking. He captures the traveling group with the measure of old westerns while not being afraid to add his own flair. The landscapes are sweeping and beautiful, but never in a way that calls attention to itself. It is as if Takayanagi has recognized the beauty of nature and has set about capturing that as carefully and artfully as possible. Cooper recognizes the strength of his cinematographer, often establishing scenes with minimal dialogue, content to let the images tell the story on their own.

So is the struggle of seeing a Scott Cooper film. The director exhibits so much raw potential in his filmmaking, walking up to the line of greatness without being able to take that final step. In "Hostiles" he has delivered his most thematically textured film, one that isn't afraid to show the violence of American Manifest Destiny and the hypocrisy of that conquest.

Unfortunately, the film is still from the "white man's" perspective, so it's hard to offer it too much praise in its handling of the Native American experience. Despite some effort from Cooper, both the Cheyenne characters, and especially the Comanche, are two-dimensional at best. But so are the majority of the characters not played by Christian Bale, who delivers a fantastic performance. Overall, "Hostiles" shows that Cooper can deliver a fantastic actor's film, rich with stunning visuals, but ultimately light on plot and emotional follow through.


In 1892, legendary Army Capt. Joseph Blocker reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief and his family back to their tribal land. Embarking on a harrowing and perilous journey from Fort Berringer, N.M., to the grasslands of Montana, they soon encounter a young widow whose family was killed on the plains. The travelers must now band together to survive a punishing landscape that's crawling with hostile Comanches and vicious outliers.


Runtime :: 133 mins
Release Date :: Jan 26, 2018
Language :: Silent
Country :: United States


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