Film Review: Hostiles
Updated: May 28
I love watching a good Western. Having spent a lot of my childhood on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona, I feel a special connection to that part of the country and to the people.
But most Westerns that involve Native Americans are one-sided, ridiculous, and wholly inaccurate, so I rarely recommend them to friends. With the exception of Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, I typically turn them off long before they finish, wondering why I bothered to try again.
Scott Cooper’s Hostiles is different. It presents both sides of the Indian-versus-settler struggle in a realistic, unbiased way, without succumbing to the usual clichés. No small feat.
The film opens with a Comanche raiding party slaughtering everyone in an Anglo family except Rosalee Quaid (Rosamund Pike). An army contingent led by Captain Joe Blocker, well performed by Christian Bale, discovers her in her burned-out house, her dead husband and two young children covered in burlap and her deceased baby in her arms.
Captain Blocker is on his way from New Mexico to Montana, under orders to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief back to his tribal lands after a long prison sentence. Rosalee joins Captain Blocker on a harrowing journey filled with more raids by Comanches. But we learn that the captain despises Native Americans and has participated in brutal slaughters of his own.
The many complexities that arise on their journey are satisfying and nuanced, including how the Cheyenne chief and his family help fight off another band of Comanches. Blocker learns to trust his Cheyenne captives as they band together for survival.
A twist occurs when the captain stops at an army fort and is ordered to transport a fellow soldier found guilty of butchering a Cheyenne family. The prisoner (an outstanding Ben Foster) reminds the captain that he is being hanged for actions Blocker has taken many times; he also reminds him that he saved the captain’s life during a perilous fight with the very Cheyenne chief he is escorting.
Perhaps the finest scenes are reserved for a fight between Blocker’s team and the ranchers who vow to kill all of them if they don’t get the Indians off their property. Never mind that the property they’re claiming is Cheyenne tribal lands. Irony abounds in this beautifully filmed movie.
The ending doesn’t disappoint (that alone is saying something), with a rare display of love between the Indians and Anglos.
Hostiles was released in 2017, but many people are unfamiliar with it. For those looking for spectacular writing and acting, I highly recommend this brutally honest view of life in the West during the late 1800s.