CREDIT: Lorey Sebastian/Yellow Hawk, Inc.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher, Ben Foster, Bill Camp, Stephen Lang

Director: Scott Cooper

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Rating: R for Western Hostility

Release Date: December 22, 2017 (Limited)

Christian Bale excels at playing men who are forced into carrying the weight of a profoundly demanding mission, whether by their own volition or due to leverage someone else holds over them. The Dark Knight’s “the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now” is basically that status as personal credo. In the 1892-set Western Hostiles (Bale’s second collab with his Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper), he plays a much more reluctant protagonist, an Army captain forced to deliver a Cheyenne chief and his family back to tribal lands, under threat of losing his pension if he refuses. He looks like he hasn’t bathed in years; that stink and his impressive mustache tangibly represent the brunt he is under.

Ergo, Captain Bale (Captain Joseph Blocker is his character name) is filled with a lot of hostility, and he is surrounded by a lot of low-grade or full-blown hostility, whether it be from his fellow soldiers, the suicidal widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was recently slaughtered, his Cheyenne transports, or the natives that ambush them. We might have our winner for Most Accurate Title of the Year right here.

While nobody in this film is particularly heroic, I do worry that its portrayal of Native Americans hearkens back to a more racist tradition of Westerns. The opening scene presents a group of Comanches at their most savage. For no clear reason, they burn down a family’s home, skinning the father’s scalp and mercilessly killing him and his two young daughters. I am sure that some natives were actually this brutal in late-19th century frontier America, and I do not mean to say that I think that Hostiles is implying that all of them (or all of this particular tribe) were this awful. But the fact that this worst version is all we see of them and that this portrayal is presented so bluntly is concerning.

At least we can appreciate at the aesthetic pleasures (or anti-pleasures, really) with fewer moral qualms. If you ever wanted to see Ben Foster tied up in the cold, muddy rain at night, Hostiles is the film for you. Cooper’s designs for how icky and uninviting nature gets without modern amenities is thoroughly harsh. Lovingly so, even (at least the crafty attention to detail is loving). You’ll probably want to shower afterwards, in a cathartic sort of way, or if you’re a 19th century fetishist, you’ll run right out and find the closest available barren lands.

Hostiles is Recommended If You Like: John Wayne and Clint Eastwood at their most rugged

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hostiles