A harsh, unforgiving, yet beautiful landscape yields a harsh, unforgiving, yet beautiful movie. This is not a movie for the faint of heart; it starts with the massacre of a family and the atrocities keep on coming. Never have I seen so many graves dug in one movie. Still, it is gorgeously filmed in parts of the West that most of us will never see. This flick will be forgotten by the time that the Oscars come around again, but these actors were very good. Those who see this movie will not forget it anytime soon but, once again, any recommendation to friends and neighbors will come with the caveat that it is not for the squeamish. And, finally, a film that has character development. We know why Captain Joe Blocker hates Yellow Hawk and we see the struggle within.
Captain Joe is ready to retire but is given the job of taking a dying Yellow Hawk and his family from New Mexico to Montana. Given their history, Joe refuses until the government threatens court martial and loss of his pension. Shortly after leaving on their journey, they stumble upon Rosalie Quaid, psychotic from the loss of her family. The travelers meet all sorts of hostiles on their way north, including a soldier formerly under the command of Captain Joe who is to be hanged for murder of “Indians.” Will these enemies be able to put aside their pasts? Will they earn the grudging respect of the other?
Captain Joe is played by Christian Bale, whom many critics believe is the successor to Daniel Day-Lewis as the best actor of his generation. I won’t argue. At the start, you can see the hatred of “Indians” boiling under his skin. Later, his range is apparent by the compassion given to survivors. As good as Bale is, Rosamund Pike is every bit his equal as the widow, Rosalie. Her pain of loss eventually gives way to bonding with the females in Yellow Hawk’s family. Wes Studi is Yellow Hawk, beaten down after seven years in prison, but still a proud, proud man. Much is made that Timothee Chamalet (nominated for Best Actor for Call me by Your Name) is in this movie, but the part is so small and ill-defined that I wondered why anyone bothered.
This is not the Ponderosa, folks; there are no light moments here. Hostiles directly acknowledges the mistreatment of Native Americans, but also recognizes that a more complete story is for a multi-part series. Certainly, all grievances can not be adequately addressed in a 133 minute film. This movie is more about soul searching. How can you live with yourself after the terrible things you have done, or things done to you or your loved one? Some critics complain that the movie is too slow. For me, it understands that it takes time to travel from one side of the county to the other, from abhorrence to forgiveness, and from self-loathing to acceptance. For those of you willing to go along on the ride, I think you will find it worthwhile.