By Bradley Griffith
The genre with the fewest movie releases each year is the western. Maybe it’s because of the changing demographics of our country, or the average age of moviegoers skewing younger. Or maybe it’s because there are very few good western stories left to be told. Whatever the reason, “Hostiles” bucks this trend and provides quality serious entertainment for adults.
Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) and her husband are trying to make a home for their family in the western territory of New Mexico in 1892. They have a small home many miles from any other semblance of civilization. They were living in peace until a rogue group of Comanches raided their property.
Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) of the United States Army is in charge of rounding up Apache families that were trying to escape being imprisoned at Fort Berringer, New Mexico. Blocker is on his way out of the Army, he has only days left until his retirement. He expects to serve out his time at Fort Berringer.
His commanding officer has one final mission for him. Aging Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family have been imprisoned at Fort Berringer for seven years. Yellow Hawk has terminal cancer and wants to be buried in his ancestral burial grounds in Wyoming. Blocker is ordered to escort Yellow Hawk and his family through the dangerous territory between New Mexico and Wyoming.
Yellow Hawk had killed many of Blocker’s fellow soldiers in brutal and gruesome ways until Blocker captured him. Blocker refused to escort Yellow Hawk until he was threatened with the loss of his Army pension. Along the way Blocker and his group come across Rosalie Quaid and her destroyed home and take her with them on their journey. The movie is about the journey and the many obstacles they find in their way along with the ever-evolving relationship between Blocker and his captives.
Above all else, “Hostiles” is intense and dramatic. Virtually every scene of the movie is filled with tension and foreboding. Every interaction between characters bristles with intensity. The simple scene where Blocker is ordered to escort Yellow Hawk could have been unforgettable. Instead, you could feel the passion radiating from each man and the animosity between them. There is nothing even approaching humor in the movie, it’s all about the drama.
An unusual aspect of the movie is the prominence of silence throughout. These silences allow time for introspection and give you time to think while the movie is still playing. At one point it was so quiet in the theater that I could hear one of the characters swallowing whiskey, and another time the creaking of a chair reverberated off the walls.
If you want a successful movie based on intensity, drama, and silence, Christian Bale is the perfect lead actor. He knows how to let silence work for him and can express both his rage and gratitude in only a few short sentences. While Bale was perfect for his role, the best acting performance was turned in by Rosamund Pike. She was great as the anguished and tortured Rosalie Quaid. The grief coming from her was palpable and her evolution of the character as the movie progressed was stunning.
“Hostiles” was not what I would consider to be a shoot-em-up western. While it’s true there are many fast and furious gun battles that are amazing and are alone worth the price of admission, the purpose of the movie is not the gunfights or action. The movie is about the journey, both across the rugged landscape and closing the distance between the characters.
You don’t have to like westerns to enjoy “Hostiles.” If you enjoy good dramatic movies with action that also focuses on character development and pulls no punches, “Hostiles” is your best bet at the theater right now.
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Rated R for strong violence and language.