A Soldier Escort (Film Review: “Hostiles”)

A somber yet brutal tale about an embittered U.S. Army Captain and the perilous journey he’s ordered to take, to escort his enemy – a dying Cheyenne Chief – back to his homeland.

SnapShot Plot

Set in 1892, Hostiles immerses us in an American West strictly divided between Native American tribes and the White Man who is represented both by settlers and the U.S. Army outposts which have become long-term holding cells for tribal prisoners. The film opens with a blood curdling massacre by a band of horse-stealing Comanches of all but one member of a pioneer family, the wife and mother Rosalee Quaid, played by Rosamund Pike. Concurrently, we are introduced to Christian Bale’s central character, Army Captain Joseph Blocker, a veteran of the Indian Wars, whose experiences have steeled him against those people and all they represent.

In Fort Berringer, New Mexico, Blocker is sternly ordered (and reluctantly acquiesces) to provide a military escort to Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (played by veteran character actor Wes Studi), a once formidable foe but now an elderly and dying man. The mission, with the backup of a small contingent of soldiers under Blocker’s command, is to deliver Yellow Hawk and his family safely to their homeland, so that he can be buried among his people. Along the way, they discover the horrible scene of carnage suffered by Rosalie and her family, and convince her to join them as they continue northward to Montana. What follows is nothing short of an odyssey, as this band of would-be enemies and strangers must face not only their most deep-seated hostilities against each other but must somehow come together to survive the deadliest attacks from outside forces who threaten to massacre them all.

Parting Shot

Written and directed by Scott Cooper (widely recognized for the wonderful film, Crazy Heart with Jeff Bridges), this film is gorgeous to watch, with breathtaking scenery filmed on location mostly in Arizona and New Mexico.

Hostiles is what’s known as an actor’s movie, at least for its two principals, beautifully captured by Bale and Pike. The camera lingers patiently over their faces, allowing them to show us a full palette of expression and emotion, with dialogue that may seem at moments to be incomplete or unfinished, but in fact may reflect a time in history when people didn’t feel the luxury or the introspection to wax too poetic about their feelings. In other words, these characters are not ‘navel gazers’; rather they are individuals who have a job to do, and take their burdens seriously. The movie also takes its time to establish an increasingly suspenseful yet ironically emotional tone, especially as the soldiers, Rosalee, Yellow Hawk and his family begin to see themselves as a single unit instead of disparate strangers. Survival will do that to you, the film seems to be suggesting. And finally, above all, this is a story about Hatred, and the prayer for redemption that may lie tantalizing close to the area in the heart where Forgiveness may reside.

The last scene of this film will stay with me always. I urge you to see it through to this truly moving ending.

Hostiles is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymf9B_5_I-o

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