Hot Take: Under-the-radar December release should have been talked about more thanks to a harrowing tale and an amazing performance by Christian Bale. However, somehow Hostiles got lost in the Oscar shuffle but that doesn’t make it less of a perfect homage to classic Westerns and one of the saddest films you’ll see in 2018.
Release in 3 theaters in December, Hostiles didn’t find a wide release until near the end of January. Having heard nothing about the film before seeing it, I assumed it was another “Dump Month” release despite the cache of Christian Bale in the lead role. Quickly, I realized it wasn’t a January release at all and then began to wonder why this film, especially Bale’s performance and the stunning visuals, were never mentioned during Oscar talks. Hostiles turned out to be a hidden gem of a film featuring a number of strong performances in addition to Bale including Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster, Timothee Chalamet, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Jonathan Majors and Stephen Lang.
The film opens in New Mexico in 1892 with a group of Comanches attacking a family who have settled in the wilderness. The Comanches scalp the husband and kill the three children but somehow the wife (Pike) manages to hide and wait out the Comanches who eventually leave. Flash forward to Fort Berringer where Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale) is given his latest marching orders. These orders don’t set well with him as he’s asked to accompany dying Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Studi) and his family to their tribal lands in Montana. Initially, Blocker refuses the order from the Colonel (Lang) but facing a court-martial and not worth risking his pension, Blocker accepts the order. He gathers a crew of men played by Cochrane, Plemons, Majors and Chalamet. While on the path to Montana, they discover the charred remains of the home in the opening scenes. Inside the house, they find Rosalie, the wife and mother of the slain family, as she cares for the dead bodies of her daughters within the house. Eventually, Blocker and his men convince her to come with them and they bury the family on a hillside. Rosalie joins the party and Yellow Hawk warns Blocker that it may be in their best interest to work together because the Comanches will not relent.
Without heading into spoiler territory, that’s enough of a synopsis to give you the gist of the film. A classic Western in many ways, Hostiles delivers strong emotional performances especially from Bale and Pike. Pike’s emotional journey is a little more obvious as her family was slaughtered at the hands of Comanches but Bale’s is more subtle and cerebral as everything he’s come to know about his world and way of life is changing around him. The outdated Captain who was a stalwart during war times is now being asked to run humanitarian missions which involve accompanying his enemy, a man who had killed many of his soldiers and in some instances close friends in battle, and it wears on Blocker and put on full display by Bale who one could argue is the best actor of the 21st century. Also, the cinematography and lush visuals of the Western plains are impressive thanks to the work by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi who most recently worked on 2015’s Black Mass and Spotlight.
If you’re looking for an under-the-radar film that no one has talked about and aren’t turned off by the idea of a classic Western, Hostiles is a movie you should add to your “Must See” list. With it being highly unlikely MHT will screen many more films from 2017 beyond the 151 already seen, it is safe to say that Hostiles is amongst the Top 20 films of the year. Bale’s performance is deserving of an Oscar nomination yet somehow, it was overlooked completely. Almost completely out of theaters, you still have a week or two to take this one in and because the visuals are so impressive, it makes this one worth recommending a visit to the cineplex to truly soak it all in. Bring a box of tissues or wear long sleeves at least because there’s plenty of moments that might jerk a tear or two.
Christian Bale is phenomenal and it’s rare to see a classic Western without the bells and whistles of the modern amenities tossed around.
Isn’t life depressing enough without reliving the slaughter of a family?