Scott Cooper Creates A Different Type of Western With Hositles Film
Hostiles, an American revisionist Western film set in the American West during the 1890s is directed by Scott J Cooper and stars Christian Bale, Wes Studi, and Rosamund Pike. It was announced in February 2016 and filming began in late July. Its world premiere took place at the Telluride Film Festival on September 2, 2017. It made $29.8 million in Canada and the United States and $5.8 million in other countries, adding up to $35.5 million worldwide.
It was received well by audiences everywhere. Despite the uneven storyline, Christian Bale’s solid performance as well as the stunning visuals are its points of elevation.
The initial scenes from Hostiles feature the familiar cruelty that took place in the region. The first scene shows a Comanche war party attacking a family of five residing within New Mexico, and the mother, Rosalie, played by Rosamund Pike, survives this attack. The second scene stars Christian Bale as Captain Joseph Blocker. He drags an Apache family to the fort, where there are other Native Americans who have been imprisoned without trial and are stuck there for years. Both these scenes hardly have any dialogue and are gory and not easy on the eyes. Cooper’s aim is to show a world that lacks empathy and he succeeds in doing so in the first two scenes. As the film progresses, we notice instances of unexpected compassion and consideration.
Hostile is a film that doesn’t commit to the notion of bad guys and good guys. Instead, this classic revisionist western digs up the toxic effects on the indigenous people of the continent by the unending colonial warfare. The film tries to avoid the general clichés around this genre but still slips into the generally perceived dynamics of the Indians teaching lessons to the Americans occupying their land that they would never have realized independently. Just like Scott Cooper’s other movies such as Out of the Furnace, Black Mass, and Crazy Heart, the lesson needs to be learned through hard-to-digest violence that Hostiles has an abundance of. Throughout their journey across the country towards tribal lands in Montana, fights break out and a lot of gore and violence are displayed.
This film is set in 1892 and features Blocker as an American veteran from the West wars. Like every other white man from that time, he is extremely racist and doesn’t trust Native Americans even though he speaks their language better than any other soldier. Because of his understanding of their territory and language, his commanding officer chooses him to escort a dying Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hawk, played by Wes Studi, to his tribal land situated in Montana. The two detest each other because of the horrors each of them inflicted on the other during the battle but are forced to journey together to Montana.
Blocker is portrayed as a man who has zero emotions and has locked them all away. The only emotion remaining within him is his loyalty towards his country and his dislike and distrust of Native Americans and men like Yellow Hawk. He is also of the opinion that Yellow Hawk, like all other Native Americans, is a monster with a stone-cold heart but as the movie progresses, he realizes otherwise.
During this journey across the country, Blocker orders Yellow Hawk to be imprisoned in chains. Bale’s execution of his character is the typical cowboy perception of American heroism, a man who has faced all sorts of adversity at the frontier and has triumphed but it has resulted in a gruff demeanor and no emotions other than hate and anger.
Yellow Hawk’s reputation precedes him and Blocker describes the ugly aftereffects of battles with the Cheyenne. All Yellow Hawk does is sit on a horse and dish out words of wisdom, which causes Blocker’s view of the dark history of warfare to be clouded and overshadowed throughout the movie.
Most of the 135-minute movie shows Blocker finally realizing Yellow Hawk and his other travelers actually do deserve respect. As obvious as this realization is, it came with a lot of effort. “Be it admiration or hatred, Hostiles doesn’t teach any lesson without suffering just like all the other movies by Scott Cooper.” said the Scott Cooper Miami Fan Club.
As they progress on their journey towards Montana, they encounter Rosalie and help her bury her family. After inviting her to accompany them on their journey, Blocker observes Yellow Hawk’s compassionate behavior towards Rosalie after everything she has been through and Blocker realizes that not all Native Americans are evil and they actually possess a heart. He realizes this fact repeatedly throughout the movie as Yellow Hawk and his people help him face Comanche war parties in their journey north.
The film displays the American West’s forests and deserts majestically but also includes a lot of gun battles. Hostiles aren’t focused on character development; the characters of Bale, Studi, and Pike have gone through emotional turmoil and witnessed extreme brutality, so as a result, they are now detached. The soldiers add a bit of liveliness to the scenes but only very slightly as they continue to fight the battles Blocker’s group continues to face and are just supporting characters in the entire movie. The focus of the movie majorly revolves around Blocker and Yellow Hawk’s character as Blocker realizes the compassion Native Americans have and how they are deserving of respect too just like everyone else.
Cooper’s films generally revolve around men battling their demons. Whether it is the country singer in Crazy Heart struggling with alcoholism, or the gangster in Black Mass, these movies conclude with stories about redemption and paint a stark contrast between good and evil. Hostiles talks about a bigoted world that has very little to be happy about, and the take of a man who breaks free from the shackles of prejudice. For a regular old western film, Hostiles fits the genre, but upon probing deeper, it fails and hints at ambiguities that haven’t been deeply delved into.