This past weekend I took a trip to the movie theater to see Hostiles, starring Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike. While I’m a fan of the western genre in general, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film. The trailers didn’t give much away–which I suppose is a good thing. Nonetheless, having seen many hit-or-miss films lately, I went in with tempered expectations. Now able to say I was pleasantly surprised, here is my Hostiles movie review.
In 1892, a legendary Army captain (Christian Bale) reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and his family through dangerous territory. A long history between the two impacts how they will handle the journey ahead.
3 Great Things, 1 Improvable Thing
Great: Gray Morality
This is the first on my list for a reason. I’m a firm believer that our stories occur on a micro basis. As much as we tend to lump groups of people together, our individual experiences are just that. For this reason I found it extremely refreshing to see the propensity to do both good and bad within each character.
Game of Thrones was the first show to really plant the seed of this idea in my head. Especially in the case of the Lannisters, we see the line between antagonist and protagonist blurred in a realistic way. For example, where Jamie can be an incestuous, brutal combatant, at times we see a softer side to him too (Tyrion and Brienne).
In ‘Hostiles,’ essentially all characters have blood on their hands, Americans and Natives alike. Over time the “protagonist” characters are the ones who come to accept there is a reason for the other side’s hatred. They learn the only way to right the wrongs is to move forward, past a dark time when attack and subsequent revenge is all there was.
And maybe you believe one side is more warranted than the other and that’s fine. The point of this story is shouting about it or pretending to be superior doesn’t make you part of the solution. The people involved don’t move forward unless they come together the way the Army captain and Cheyenne chief do. In the end, their initial reluctance and mutual redemption is what truly advances society. This in clear in the captain’s final decision in the film.
Great: Relentless Action
The extent of intense action to me is a balancing act which depends on the overall purpose. Plenty of books/movies/shows employ a ton of violence which serves little-to-no purpose in moving the story they are trying to tell forward. In this movie though, the violence WAS the story.
It certainly isn’t designed for the faint of heart. The first sequence of the movie in particular is tough to watch. However, this same scene ended up being one of my favorites because it sets the tone and sends a message: no one is safe in this world. Suddenly, we don’t see the actions of misguided, violent enemies as cruel, but defensive. This helps to further establish the above grayness and makes us feel the inner-struggle the characters do with each passing battle.
Great: Character Growth, Man V. Himself
It’s hard to say any specifics here without spoilers, but the growth from beginning to end of the movie are what made it great. Two particularly noteworthy performances of great characters came from Rosamund Pike and Rory Cochrane. Both portrayed the pain of loss in a believable way. More importantly though, both move through the stages of grief powerfully over the course of the story.
As mentioned above, their transformations through experience are what ultimately lead to an understanding with those who were previously sworn enemies. This is, again, what moves us forward as people
My only real gripe with this movie was it felt kind of long because of how many mourning scenes there were. A lot of people die and they do good job of making us care about each one. Additionally, I understand the point is to drill into us loss is a regular occurrence for them which doesn’t get any easier to stomach. However, there are enough scenes of utter heartbreak to remove or alter some of the extended mourning for lesser deaths.
On the other hand, some choices of what-to-show v. not-to-show were great. I think the decisions overall showed how focused the writers were on the characters themselves and I love that most about this movie.
So if you like a western, if you want to see a movie with a message as relevant to the past as the present, if you can appreciate story-appropriate violence, I highly recommend you hit up a theater to see this one!
QOTD: Who’s your favorite all-time example of a “gray” character and why? Let me know below 🙂
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