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Review: Hostiles (TIFF)

Hostiles (TIFF)
09.18.2017
8 10

PLOT: An army captain (Christian Bale) on the verge of retirement is ordered to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) back to his native lands through hostile territory.

REVIEW: HOSTILES marks star Christian Bale’s first re-teaming with director Scott Cooper (BLACK MASS) since their thriller OUT OF THE FURNACE, and his first star turn in a real large-scale epic since EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (his part in THE PROMISE was more of an extended cameo). A revisionist western, this deliberately paced but absorbing drama ranks highly in Bale’s filmography, giving him a juicy starring role to sink his teeth into, while also containing enough action to appeal to his core base.

His character, Joseph Blocker, is a man of contradictions. Low-key and unassuming, he’s also capable of hidden reserves of rage, especially when confronted by Native Americans. He's unapologetically racist towards them, having participated in many army campaigns (including Wounded Knee) where he was programmed to slaughter them without remorse. When HOSTILES picks up, he’s looking to leave that life behind and start fresh. He still can’t quite let go of his hate, especially when his superior officer (Stephen Lang) orders him to escort war chief Yellow Hawk (the great Wes Studi) home with his family, with them being former sworn enemies. Taking along his Irish sidekick (Rory Cochrane - in one of his best roles) who’s suicidal after having seen (and done) far too much, they head off on a dangerous journey with a west point graduate (Jesse Plemons) in tow.

Everything starts to change once Rosamund Pike enters the picture. The teaser depicts a brutal scene where her whole family, including all three of her daughters and husband, are slaughtered by a Comanche war party, only to re-enter the film once Blocker and his men come across her, with her situation seemingly confirming their prejudice against Native Americans, even though Yellow Tail and his children treat her with kindness.

In that way, HOSTILES is a confrontational film in that it never spoon-feeds you the way you’re supposed to feel. The opening massacre is horrific, and Bale seems like a kind man, both things would seem to make this a throwback to old-timey westerns that depicted First Nations as a monolithic creature of vengeance, but HOSTILES peels away that stereotype. They do this through Yellow Tail and his family, led by son Black Hawk (Adam Beach) who simply want to return home in peace, and are more than willing to defend Pike and the men once they’re hunted by a dangerous tribe, or are faced with the prospect of a dangerous, psychotic prisoner (Ben Foster) in their midst.

As the movie goes on, Bale’s Blocker and Cochrane’s Metz are forced to confront their prejudice, but through that also their complicity in the genocide of first nations people. It never quite goes in the direction you assume, never condemning either man, who are both essentially “the good guys” here, and Bale’s evolution is incredible. His performance truly does rank with his best, with the performance subtle and quiet, but also action driven, with Cooper staging some really impressive shoot-outs and pursuits. Pike, Studi and especially Cochrane are his equals here, with each of them contributing tremendous, layered performances. Cooper’s also roped in a great supporting cast, with one-scene cameos from Lang, Bill Camp, and Peter Mullan.

HOSTILES went into TIFF as a potential best actor showcase part for Bale, and hopefully a solid distributor picks this up and gives it a fourth quarter release, as he’s more than worthy. It’s a large-scale, epic, adult western - a rare thing on the big screen this way. Hopefully it gets the chance it deserves to reach a wide audience - as consigning this to a streaming service or VOD would be a shame.

Source: JoBlo.com

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