ReelBob: ‘Hostiles’ ★½
By Bob Bloom
For decades, almost since the advent of motion pictures, Native Americans have been stereotypically portrayed as bloodthirsty savages, delightfully scalping settlers, drinking whiskey and generally battling to impede the white man’s steady progress to expand and tame the vast tracts of land that became the western parts of the United States.
They were called Injuns, redskins and dirty savages, ill-treated, and shown neither compassion nor dignity.
You can count on one hand the titles of movies that were sympathetic to Native Americans, and the vast majority of those were produced after the counterculture revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s, culminating in Kevin Costner’s Academy Award-winning film, “Dances with Wolves,” in 1990.
Now comes a pretentious piece of claptrap, called “Hostiles,” which is meant to say something about the treatment of these indigenous people and the injustices dealt to them by the U.S. government.
You can tell that “Hostiles” has something important to say because it is emblazoned in big, bold capital letters in every action and word.
It’s a movie in which people don’t talk — instead they make pronouncements that are meant to be weighty about savagery, injustice, violence, vengeance and racism.
The problem is most of the characters speak sotto voce so that their views seem to carry more significance than intended.
The movie, written and directed by Scott Cooper (writer-director of “Crazy Heart” and director of “Black Mass”), like most movies of this ilk, is patronizing and told from a Caucasian perspective.
Thus, we have Christian Bale as Army Capt. Joseph J. Blocker, soon to retire. Before he does, he is assigned one more mission — to escort Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), a dying Cheyenne war chief, and his family from their imprisonment at a fort in New Mexico to their tribal lands in Montana.
Blocker, of course, balks. He hates Yellow Hawk from their previous bloody encounters, during which several of Blocker’s friends and troopers were killed.
Reluctantly, after being threatened with a court-martial and loss of his Army pension, he agrees to the journey.
The long and dangerous trek is interrupted when the military detail stumbles upon a widow on the plains whose family was murdered by a band of marauding renegades.
The woman, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), is added to the party.
“Hostiles” interminable back-and-forths and introspective monologues are intermittently interrupted by sequences of brutal violence meant to showcase the cruelty of man — Native American and white alike.
Half the time, you don’t understand what Bale’s Blocker is saying or talking about, while Pike looks confused, as if she’s not sure what she is supposed to do.
Studi has little dialogue and is basically meant to look dignified.
Overall, “Hostiles” is pompous garbage, meant to assuage a nation’s guilt for its treatment of those who were here before us.
If so, it would have been better served by telling the story — or any other tale — from a Native American’s point of view.
Most likely, that would have made for a better and more cohesive feature.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
1½ stars out of 4
(R), graphic violence, language