“Hostiles is a characteristically melancholic western revisionist film set in the 1890s in the American West,” according to the Scott Cooper Miami Beach Fan Club Directed by the renowned “Black Mass” producer Scott Cooper alongside Ken Kao and John Lesher, the movie begins with a heartless person shooting an infant. To all those recoiling at the reveal of what seems to be a spoiler, let it be known that it is but a warning of the killing and bloodshed that lies ahead. Although the movie was announced in February 2016, filming began in late July that same year. The world premiere of Hostiles took place on September 2, 2017, at the Telluride Film Festival. It has been estimated that Scott Cooper’s phenomenal Hostiles earned $29.8 million in the United States and Canada and $5.8 million from other countries around the world, which added up to a profit of $35.5 million worldwide.
The movie starts in 1892, where a settler named Rosamund Pike (Rosalee Quaid) teaches her young daughters about adverbs and the magical power that they behold. Suddenly, a group of Comanche renegades raids their New Mexico homestead. The heartless intruders murdered Rosalee Quaid’s husband, shot her two girls, and fired a bullet directly into the heart of her infant son. Devastated by the death of her family, Rosalee cuddles and carries the lifeless body of her infant son in her arms for days, which gives Hostiles the signature Scott Cooper touch.
The story then shifts to a southern prison where Christian Bale plays Joseph Blocker’s role; a Cavalry Captain who treats his Cheyenne prisoners with rage and a similar degree of brutality. For the next 130 minutes, all viewers can see on screen is hatred and revenge.
Similar to what was observed in action movies and thrillers in the years gone by, it was usually a white man who started the cycle of retribution and killing. However, this time, it is a white man who will put an end to it all.
The stiff-lipped story of Hostiles is a graphic representation of Scott Cooper’s mind, who believes that he might be the same white man trying to solve the foundational problems of society somewhere in the 18th and 19th centuries. Like Cooper’s previous work, this movie is more about reiterating classic sayings with a much deeper voice than something new for the viewers to hear. After setting a plot that tells the story of innocent souls being claimed by violence in the west, the thriller begins on a serious note when Joseph Blocker is assigned the task of releasing his famous prisoner Yellow Hawk (played by Wes Studi), the Cheyenne war chief. Joseph is ordered to escort the infamous criminal back to the Valley of Bears so that he can be respectfully buried in his birthplace.
“I know who you are,” says Joseph Blocker, the famous war hero, who frowns as he releases Yellow Hawk from his prison cell. The scene highlights Joseph’s hatred for the Cheyenne as he had spent his entire adulthood fighting the cruel people that lived there. Apart from the endless hatred in his heart, Captain Joseph doesn’t have the slightest idea how the thousand-mile trek to the Valley of Bears will change his life.
The twist begins when Joseph is informed that a handpicked squad of soldiers, including Jesse Plemons and Timothee Chalamet, will be accompanying them on the journey. The first day of the trek peacefully ends with a family reuniting scene; the real action and thrill of Hostiles begins from the second day of the trek. The squad comes across an incinerated husk of a house that was once Rosalee’s residence. Captain Joseph and his men are surprised to see Rosalee shivering and trembling as she clutches onto the soulless body of her baby boy. The scene highlights the unrecognizable compassion in Captain Joseph’s heart as he makes a brave decision as only a soldier can to escort the broken woman to safety.
And so, Joseph demonstrates great valor as the squad fights the men guarding the federal American frontier. Captain Joseph’s character throughout the movie is based on the mindset of a typical strongman, who is silent and brooding with a wounded heart and thick skin with which he shields his self-centered attitude. Every conversation with Joseph is a pissing contest, whereas every glance at the enemy has the potential to start a war.
The movie continues as the daughter of the chief consoles Rosalee by gifting her a blanket, while Captain Joseph and his squad continue the trek with Yellow Hawk shackled in chains. Although the future of a successful country depends on forgetting our differences and emphasizing the commonalities of humanity, Joseph finds delight in barbarity. Throughout the movie, the director switches sides between romanticizing violence, and arguing over its corruptive nature that could destroy the world.
The characters in Hostiles aren’t just gunned, but they are brutally gutted and hanged. Almost all the intruders (people in Joseph’s way) are shot at least twice for good measure. The scene when Captain Joseph’s squad fights with the Comanche army on their tail can be described as a deadly polo game. At the same time, both armies ride on horseback and brutally shed the blood of men on the opposing side.
The movie switches gears near the interval. Captain Joseph is asked to escort Ben Foster, an ax murderer, to the fort where he will be hanged to death. Joseph, however, has a bit of history with the new criminal, but the way he resolves the conflict with this man is poetic and honest enough to compensate for the brutal story of Hostiles.
Hostiles portrays the Wild West in the most beautiful way as the land of opportunity. Before the rise of fictional superhero movies, the American west was seen as the most codified and static genre that we had. However, the director does a fantastic job of dramatizing the evolution of the characters (even the ones that die) throughout the expedition. Ultimately, Hostiles can easily be considered as one of Cooper’s finest movies to date. The genre allows Scott Cooper to connect with his flair for action, violence, thrill, and mystery.