From the opening scene of “Hostiles,” you are jolted into the violent, horrific scenes of life in the open plains of America in 1892.
The story follows a brutally successful Army captain, Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), as he takes on the thankless task of delivering a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to their tribal homelands. Along the perilous journey from Fort Berringer, N.M., to Montana, the group of servicemen and Cheyenne encounter dangers at every turn.
With every gunshot, every battle, every flinch-inducing act of violence, Bale’s steely demeanor sets a plodding, painstaking tone to a film meant to capture a different view of a classic Western.
Unfortunately, with all its good intentions and vivid backdrops, “Hostiles” still manages to keep the American Indian story at a distance. The film underutilizes the acting strengths of Studi to focus on the inner struggles of Blocker and his men. Although Bale has already been touted for his gritty portrayal, his character, even in the end, holds back true emotions.
It doesn’t help that the film meanders from extreme intensity to sudden silences and then on to senseless speechifying. There were at least three times where I thought the film was ending only to have it continue in a more convoluted way.
The true standout is the achingly riveting Rosamund Pike, who portrays a young widow who witnesses the brutal murders of her family. As Rosalie Quaid, Pike becomes a force greater than the script at hand.
It’s a film many will admire, but few will enjoy.
☆☆☆ 1/2 (out of five)
Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons
Rated: R (strong violence and language)
Running time: 135 min.