To see the film Hostiles is to take an expedition into the Old West of the 1800’s. Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, Black Mass) has created a rambling, difficult journey that will leave you feeling as if you were in the rocky outcroppings and canyons of the Old West, as if you experienced the hardships, the tragedies and the fleeting friendships and bonds that grew out of this rough and harrowing life. The film also explores the complex relationships between the spiritual and resilient native peoples of North America and the resolute immigrants from other lands on a quest to escape discrimination, poverty and danger in the cities and villages that they left – who felt that they had the right to courageously seek a new life. It’s about how these relationships change color as they move from a larger social plane to a more intimate personal plane, as do most partnerships.
The screenplay is well written and the cinematography by Cooper favorite Masanobu Takayanagi, shot on location in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, provides an epic and realistic backdrop. The movie is also shot on film rather than video to give a more historic feel. The score by Max Richter provides the perfect emotional backdrop while disappearing into the scope of the whole picture. As an actor himself, Cooper is an actor’s director. He believes that spontaneity is a key to a great performance and does not call for rehearsals prior to the shoot. His first feature as a director, Crazy Heart, netted an Oscar for Best Actor for his leading man, Jeff Bridges.
In Hostiles you will see that Christian Bale is one of the most gifted actors working today. If you have ever studied the old photos of those who lived through or fought in the Civil War, you can see the depth of the cache of sorrow and horror behind the deliberately placid looks on their faces. Bale’s countenance as “Captain Joseph Blocker” captures the essence of these faces. Blocker believes that it is his job to “kill savages” – he spent his life doing his job he was asked to do as a member of the cavalry. Bale so embodies his character that the actor on stage in a Q&A seems not at all the same person the character he portrays on screen. Rosamund Pike turns in a powerful performance as “Rosalie Quaid.” Cooper and producer Ken Kao happened to see Pike in a music video in which she plays a woman haunted by a ghost on a subway train. They knew immediately that this was their “Rosalie.” Wes Studi is fantastic as the stoic Chief Yellow Hawk, conveying a wealth of emotion through his eyes, with few words and little facial expression to work with.
The movie was mostly shot in sequence. The final scene paints the proverbial thousand words about the vast social, economic and cultural changes looming as the 1800’s draw to a close. How will these people, who have been through such tumult in their lives, fit into a new more structured industrial society? Blocker sums up the environment of the Old West thus: “when we lay our heads down out here…we’re all prisoners.” This is a beautiful and thought provoking movie worth your time.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. firstname.lastname@example.org. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com