CAPSULE: This is an American Western painted in dark tones. An Indian-hating cavalry officer is assigned to accompany a Cheyenne chief back to his homeland several days away. Along the way they will start with distrust and slowly come to see each other in a more a greeable light. The film features some very nice scenery in New Mexico and Montana. HOSTILES is a little overly long but the characterizations are unrushed. The plot is not new and it unwinds slowly. The direction is more subtle than this material would have gotten back in the 1950s. Studi and Bale both give very strong performances. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
In 1892 life on the prairie attitudes were black and white. Most whites thought that Indians were a scourge on the land that needed to be exterminated. They thought that whites deserved the ownership of the land once it had been stripped of the Indians. That goes for cavalryman Captain Joseph Blocker's attitude. It was also the recently adopted attitude of Rosalie Quaid (played by Rosamund Pike) after she saw a band of Indians kill her husband and three children and then burn her homestead. Joe is given a mission that he cannot refuse, as much as he wants to. Cheyenne Chief Yellowhawk (played by the always impressive Wes Studi) is dying painfully and Joe is given orders to guard him and to bring him from New Mexico back to the Chief's homeland in Montana 1000 miles and several days journey away. Joe would rather shoot Yellowhawk himself, but he is a good enough cavalryman to obey even unpleasant orders. Sharing his protection is Rosalie Quaid and a few others who join the group. The small group knows they will be easy prey for the bloodthirsty Comanche raiders they will likely meet along the way.
I suppose this is in some ways a fairly stereotypic plot. A group of people, who may or may not like each other, have to travel together through lands of hostile Indians. Along the way they learn more about each other. They face angers and hate each other, but they have to depend on each other. Along the way the Indians learn that whites are not all alike and (with more emphasis) the whites learn that the Indians are not all alike. Wes Studi's Yellowhawk maintains a passive face in spite of his character's cancer and in spite of Joe's additional discomfort. Among those in the traveling group the chief has most of the wisdom and most of the intelligence.
Director Scott Cooper tells his story at an unhurried pace. In the 1950s or 1960s this plot or one like it might have made a fast- paced 95-minute movie. With more emphasis on characterization, HOSTILES runs for about 135 minutes. In some sequences the pacing shows the character's introspection, but then sometimes a slow scene is just slow scene. In the end there are two messages. One is a message of hope and one a message of despair. Attitudes can be changed, but there are many more attitudes out there that need changing. I rate HOSTILES a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5478478/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/hostiles
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2018 Mark R. Leeper