With a high appreciation of the Western genre, the involvement of a talented cast, the generally positive (so far) critical reception and one of 2017's best trailers (to me at least), 'Hostiles' had me completely sold from the get go.
Getting back from seeing 'Hostiles' a couple of hours ago (although a 2017 film it was only released in my country today), it on the most part did not disappoint at all. Some may be turned off by the slow pace and the brutality of some scenes. Neither bothered me actually, having gone in to the cinema knowing exactly what to expect from watching the trailer and reading a few reviews that made it clear from the outset that 'Hostiles' was a deliberate and uncompromising sort of film.
Yes 'Hostiles' is a slow burner, but deliberately so for atmosphere and mood reasons most likely. That being said, it reminded me very much of the elegiac quality of the classic Westerns that 'Hostiles' actually made me feel nostalgic for while watching it. 'Hostiles' is indeed uncompromising, with the violence being the kind that takes no prisoners and isn't afraid to hold back, while not going over-the-top that it feels gratuitous.
This can be seen in as early on as the opening scene that is as powerfully gut-wrenching an opening scene of any film from 2017 Just as disturbing are the second appearance of the Comanche and the powerful climax. 'Hostiles' is not non-stop brutality though. There is real sincerity and poetry too.
What could have been a major distraction from the main mission, which in itself is very heartfelt and is never lost even with everything else potentially threatening to, is actually what provides the film's heart and vulnerability. Rosalie's plight and back story really resonated with and moved me, as did the very heartfelt coda and a persuasive message, delivered just about right, that has as much relevance now as it did then.
'Hostiles' looks stunning visually. The scenery is majestic in the most spectacular of ways, ranging between stark and lush. The period detail is evocative, with the right amount of grit and understated sumptuousness. The cinematography sweeps just as much in a way that is beautiful in a non-flashy but very natural and richly atmospheric fashion.
Similarly the music has atmosphere and grace without being intrusive. Sometimes 'Hostiles' has scenes with just dialogue and shots of actor's expressions which speaks volumes with no music or sound featured and all the better for it. It's beautifully directed by Cooper too and much of the dialogue is thoughtful and sincere and the action thrillingly authentic without being over-the-top.
Christian Bale gives a performance that is among his all-time best, and he always has been a commanding and powerful screen presence. He has a smouldering, intense authority throughout in a stoic, subtle sense, whether in his stubbornness, his compassion or in action, commanding the screen effortlessly and often in a nuanced way, a knockout in the final 30 minutes. And don't worry, his character-of-its-own moustache is nowhere near as distracting or unintentionally funny as one would think.
Making even more of an impression is Rosamund Pike in perhaps her second best performance to date after her exceptional once-in-a-lifetime performance in 'Gone Girl'. She has never been more heart-wrenching or poignant in especially in the first half, when we see how such an every-family-member's-worst-nightmare tragedy has affected and broken Rosalie, something that Pike demonstrates with expressive nuance, pathos and a far wider emotional and expressive range than she has been given credit for in the past. Despite always liking her, it is performances like this, 'Gone Girl' and 'A United Kingdom' that have particularly stretched Pike and played to her strengths and it is this direction that she could keep pursuing.
Sadly, it is perhaps too late for either Bale or Pike to be considered for awards attention, if the film had been released earlier either or preferably both could and should have been in serious contention for all the major ones. This may seem like extreme hyperbole, but this is my genuine stance on this. They are very well served by the supporting cast, with especially dignified turns from Q'orianka Kilcher and Wes Studi (who could have been had more screen time but dominates every time he appears, often without saying a huge amount). Ben Foster is also strong. Nobody is bad here.
Not that 'Hostiles' is perfect. The villain roles here are rather sketchy, they could have had more to them than one-dimensional (though the Comanche are quite chilling still) ciphers there mainly to provide the conflict, only for them to be dispatched pretty quickly (especially the trio of abductors).
Although sincere and thought-provoking on the whole the dialogue rambles at times, meaning a few scenes are bogged down by too much talk that slows things down a little. The middle act is particularly true to this, when the pace doesn't feel as tight and the storytelling not quite as focused (though still gripping).
For my liking too many of the secondary cast members have very little to do other than 10 minutes tops of screen time and some lines admittedly delivered well. Perhaps the film is slightly too long as well, but that wasn't as big an issue for me.
Overall, a very good film and almost great, with a lot of outstanding elements (especially the visuals, the two leads, the atmosphere and emotional power). Not a film to be hostile towards. 8/10 Bethany Cox