Hostiles

Christian Bale is a fine dramatic actor who immerses himself in every role he plays. Last night I saw him in the movie Hostiles. It was an outstanding movie, and so was his performance and that of all the cast.

Hostiles is a western set in 1892. The story starts with a massacre of the Quaid family by Comanches who descend upon them to steal their horses. The family consists of a mother, father, two girls, and a baby. The tranquility of the beginning scene is in stark contrast to the end; it’s a tragedy, because not only were the horses stolen but all family members were killed except the mother, Rosalie Quaid, played by British actress Rosamund Pike.

Christian Bale plays Captain Joseph Blocker, a long serving army member who is at the end of his tenure. However, he is given one last task before he can retire: to transport a Cheyenne War chief, Yellow Hawk, who is dying of cancer. Captain Blocker is ordered to transport Yellow Hawk and his family to Montana so that Yellow Hawk can die on his ancestral lands. This directive is on the President’s orders; however, Captain Blocker strongly resists the task, as he and Yellow Hawk have a prior history of combat. As he readily recounts the atrocities that he witnessed Yellow Hawk commit, he is reminded by his superior that he himself has also committed atrocities.

Westerns normally have black and white characters— good versus evil with good ultimately prevailing. However, in this movie, the lines are blurred. It’s a deep movie, and as it progresses, that black and white line becomes even harder to define. And that is one of the many characteristics I liked about this movie. One exam- ple would be the story telling between Joseph and his battle-fatigued Sergeant, Metz. In their quarters, they recount stories of their previous battles. They speak of the days when Captain Blocker was injured and gutted in a fight, and then his vengeance later when he cut the culprit ‘from stem to stern’.Then they both laughed and termed it the ‘good old days’.

Battle fatigue also plays a role here: Sergeant Metz tells Captain Blocker no longer has the will to fight anymore and talks about the fact that he has the ‘melancholy’. And this melancholy plays a larger role later in the movie.

The detail, composed of the dying Cheyanne war chief, his family, and Captain Blocker’s chosen men, soon departs, and it isn’t long before they come across the sole survivor of the Quaid household, Rosalie, who is in shock (which is putting it mildly) over losing her family. Covered in blood, she has her daughters lying in their beds and covered with a blanket and she is holding her dead baby. She is treated with great tenderness by the soldiers and party, particularly by Captain Blocker. This for me, was a great example of the complexity of the human character and how this movie blurs those lines of black and white, as it shows how someone who has cut someone ‘from stem to stern’ can also show such compassion to another human being. Rosalie joins the crew and the journey continues. It isn’t long before they run into trouble (I guess the letter from the President carried by Captain Blocker didn’t carry much weight in the Wild West). I won’t talk about the details but, as a result of their ensuing battles, past prejudices are put aside and the crew bands together to protect themselves. Former foes become needed allies as they all fight for survival.

I think for me the movie was outstanding for many reasons, one is that it delves into prejudices without being preachy. Rather, their redundancy is revealed to the viewer as the story unfolds, making one question really is good and who is evil. With that realization, near the end of the movie, amends are made to dying Yellow Hawk that allow old hatreds to be released and gives comfort to him.

Well into their journey to Montana, Ben Foster is introduced as Sergeant Wills, and he needs to be escorted so that he can be hung for his crimes. Captain Blocker and his detail agree to perform this task. Sergeant Wills’ crime was that he killed some people with an axe, a crime he justi es by saying he “didn’t kill anyone who didn’t deserve it”. Sergeant Wills and Captain Blocker are known to each other as they had served together in battle years before. The conversations between Blocker and Wills is another instance of that blurring of black and white, good and evil.

The end of the movie shows an interesting (and topical) situation with Yellow Hawk’s family in con ict with the new world that has taken over former Native lands and pronounced it theirs. And I liked the very end of the movie which was in some respects a very good one.

For me it was a deep, finely acted and expertly scored movie (the music added much to each scene and did not drown out what was being said). Christian Bale gives an outstanding performance as he conveys so many feel- ings without being overly verbose about them.

 

I loved it and hope you do too.

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