On the scale of films having a high opinion of themselves, Hostiles is at the Kanye West end. It’s a drawn out, brooding affair from Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Black Mass) that takes itself rather seriously, designed, it appears, to be considered in the forthcoming awards season. And while given the narrative there’s little room for moments of light relief, this unrelentingly bleak affair is just lacking a sense of entertainment and intensity, that makes for a rather tedious cinematic experience.
It’s 1892, in the midst of an assault on the Native Americans, and we meet the esteemed Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) who is ordered, against his wishes, to escort a Cheyenne Chief (Wes Studi) and his family across a dangerous territory. Though on his way they encounter Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) – a grieving mother who witnessed the murder of her husband and three children, following an attack she only just escaped from. The two share a deep rooted pain, as it seems they all do, as our collective work their way across this desolate American landscape.
The opening scene, that of the aforementioned, brutal attack on Rosalie and her family, throws you into the heart of the story with little respite. Not many films begin with an image of woman grasping the corpse of her dead baby in her arms, as blood seeps out of the blanket. It’s a breathtaking scene, and as we progress, it turns out to be the only truly compelling one too, as while Hostiles can undoubtedly be described as a pensive, slow-burning affair, it’s not one that rewards the patient viewer, in desperate need of an editing job to maintain the pace.
Bale, as always, impresses in the lead role, as we get a true sense for the anguish within, particularly as we progress towards the latter stages and we feel that burning sense of regret and shame from the actions committed against the Native American public. But as the protagonist, and thus the character tasked with shouldering the investment of the viewer, he’s somewhat cold, disallowing for any true emotional engagement with the story.
Hostiles is overbearing in its bleakness, and while there can be a cinematic beauty to such barbarity, and profundity to the pain – this struggles to be stirring and poignant, leaving just this sense of desolation, which is almost suffocating to the viewer. Now there is always room for films of this nature, but they also need to be captivating, and it’s here this film falls short, struggling to keep the viewer’s attention throughout this lengthy run time, of which you feel every darn minute.