Arts & Leisure

“Hostiles” strikes a balanced note

CHRISTIAN BALE stars in “Hostiles.”

By Jim Tortolano

Of all the worthy films left off the 2018 Best Picture nomination list for the Oscars, at the top belongs “Hostiles,” a thought-provoking Western which both embraces and challenges assumptions about how the West was really won.

What’s most remarkable about “Hostiles” is not merely fine performances and stunning cinematography but the spirit behind the film. For 50 years of movie-making, the heroes were John Wayne types who shot a lot of Indians. For the next half-decade, it was the white man who was the villain.

In the screenplay and direction by Scott Cooper, easy answers and flat stereotypes are cast aside and a more nuanced version of American history and human nature are depicted.

It’s 1882 in New Mexico, and a crusty U.S. Cavalry Captain (Christian Bale, making Batman look positively cheerful by comparison) is ordered to take a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to their homelands in Montana.

The two warriors had a bloody history together, but as the journey progresses, a mutual respect develops between them. We also see an evolution in the heart of a woman (Rosamund Pike) whose family was murdered by a Commanche war party.

This is a violent film that evokes the nature of life on the frontier, even at a time when most of the great wars on the plains had ended disastrously for the natives.

While there is heroism here, there are no plaster saints; cruelty and selfishness are juxtaposed with kindness and sacrifice. While there is a sort of a happy ending in this story, perhaps symbolic of the final descent of peace, it is clearly built on much heartache and tragedy. This is how the west was truly won.

“Hostiles” is rated R for profanity and violence.

 

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