Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale: The Promise) is an Indian fighter. He knows the tribes, customs and languages. He’s made a career of tracking, moving and culling them from U.S. territories. He’s committed atrocities, and been paid back in kind.
Ready to retire with his demons, he gets a last assignment before riding off into the sunset. Imprisoned Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi: Empire of the Heart) is dying of cancer, and a modestly repentant president allows him to return to his ancestral lands to die. Blocker’s task is to escort Yellow Hawk safely to the Valley of the Bears, now in Montana.
Along the way they encounter Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike: The Man with the Iron Heart), whose family was killed by Comanches.
A dour film that wishes it were deeper than it is, Hostiles is overlong and a surprisingly unnuanced film. Director Scott Cooper (Black Mass) crafts a superficially beautiful western. Untamed society, human cruelty and the search for redemption are lightly touched. Every character is a type, and each gets off too easily. The ending is ridiculously trite.
Odd that a film seeking to indict the American treatment of Native tribes does so little to develop native characters. A fantastic character actor, Studi is called to do no more than look stoically toward the horizon. Yellow Hawk and his family get no chance to express their outrage, but they are quick to offer clothes and comfort to the traumatized Rosalie, as Cooper perpetuates the noble savage characterization.
Native characters aren’t the only short-changed actors here. Many wonderful character actors — including Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, Timothée Chalamet and Adam Beach — do little more than die on Cooper’s bloody journey through the west. Only Rory Cochrane (The Most Hated Woman in America) gets an arc that includes pathos and character development.
Rosamund Pike, a fine actress with an Oscar nomination, swings wildly from soap opera hysterics to catatonic staring.
Redeeming this bleak western, cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi shoots the wilds of America with a style reminiscent of John Ford. Vistas are vast and beautiful as the group traverses them. Actor Bale helps, too, with a performance leagues better than any of his costars is allowed.
Beautiful, bleak and shallow, Hostiles is a frustrating film for a western fan.
Fair Western • R • 134 mins.
New this Week
Maze Runner: The Death Cure
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) has survived the maze trials only to fight the evil WCKD government again. At issue this time as Thomas and his band of survivors try to navigate the labyrinth of the Last City are cruel medical experiments, staying alive and saving the world.
Skip this last in the Maze Runner saga unless you’re caught up with the other films. Bleak, dystopian and full of teen whining, this should follow in the same steps as Hunger Games and Divergent. Pretty kids will beat the mean old adults, find love and learn they were the real grownups all along.
Prospects: Dim • PG-13 • 142 mins.