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Christian Bale displays true grit in the brutal, provocative Hostiles

Nov 11, 2023


Christian Bale reunites with writer-director Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) for this searing Western: one which has a timely resonance.

Adorned with an impressive set of whiskers, Bale delivers one of his best performances to date.

His character is a man of few words (most of them mumbled), but a lifetime of bitter experience visible in his eyes.

Director: Scott CooperStarring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Peter Mullan, Scott Wilson, Paul Anderson, Timothée Chalamet, Ben FosterGenre: WesternCountry: United StatesRelease date: 5 January, 2018Cert: 15Running time: 133 mins

Set in 1892 New Mexico, the film centres on Native American hating army Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale), who's ordered to escort ailing chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family to Montana, so he can die on his own land.

Along the way, Blocker and his men encounter traumatised survivor Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), whose entire family have been brutally murdered by Commanche warriors.

Blocker agrees to protect Rosalie, aware that the Commanches may have already targeted their party.

And as if he didn't have enough on his plate to worry about, his old friend McCowan (Peter Mullan) asks him to transport a dangerous prisoner (Ben Foster) to an out-of-the-way outpost.

Bale is on strong form, but Pike is equally impressive, portraying an emotionally wrenching journey from utter despair to pragmatic survival and finding reserves of surprising resilience. (Like Michael Fassbender in Slow West, she also wears the hell out of a cowboy hat).

In addition, Foster is typically brilliant as kill-crazy Sgt Wills, and there's strong support from a superb cast of character actors that includes Jesse Plemons, Timothée Chalamet and Rory Cochrane as Blocker's loyal soldiers.

Adapted from a manuscript by Donald E. Stewart (The Hunt for Red October), Cooper's script explores complex, resonant themes of racial hatred and damaging violence (the 19th century equivalent of PTSD), as well as the need for tolerance, understanding and compassion.

To that end, Cooper's assured direction and pacing achieve a compelling, slow-burn effect. The audience feels every step of Blocker and Rosalie's long, arduous journey, but that only serves to underscore their accompanying emotional progression.

That said, the progressive themes of the film are slightly undermined by the fact that the Native characters are so poorly sketched, with established stars Adam Beach and Q’orianka Kilcher (as Yellow Hawk's son and granddaughter) receiving particularly short shrift in that regard.

On the plus side, Cooper's control of the violence in the film is exceptional, the highlight being an on-horseback attack sequence that is as brutal as it is chaotic.

He also orchestrates a number of sequences that feel fresh and original in their staging, particularly during a scene involving a night-time raid on an enemy camp.

The film also looks terrific, with Masanobu Takayanagi's striking cinematography making full use of the spectacular landscapes, accentuated by an atmospheric score from Max Richter.

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