"Sometimes I envy the finality of death. The certainty. And I have to drive those thoughts away when I wake." Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike)
Although Quaid's words might well be the anthem of this brutal, quiet, moving 1892 western, they harbinger the death of the Wild West and the birth of justice and equality as whites and Native Americans abandon slowly the death that brought little peace to either side. Appropriately the tone in unremittingly grave, and rightly so, for the film illustrates the wages of racism as well as any contemporary screed could try to do.
Writer/director Scott Cooper, who knows a thing or two about the passing of time and custom with his poignant Crazy Heart, drives home the loss of the Indian's world, the cost to the US troops, and the bereft families on each side. Captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale), a legendary anti-Native American fighter, is charged with escorting Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), also a killer, and his family from New Mexico to his home in Montana, where the government determined he should be allowed to die.
Cooper is at his best filming landscapes occasionally punctuated with John-Ford-like door framed shots and themes of abduction and reconciliation. The threats along the way are external and internal, often soldiers just as culpable as the "savages" they hunt.
Joe is a man on a mission to bring justice against the Indians, but like the times he's in, it is time to change to benevolence as the end of the century approaches and a kinder world of connection and cooperation begins, slowly and surely, like the film. The appreciation for a person regardless of race, is Cooper's ultimate aim. In ways, this Western is reminiscent of the revisionist Dances with Wolves, both of whose slow pace, almost at time painful, is reflective change's pace.
Cooper's shots are generous to the beautiful faces, from Mrs. Quaid's lovely and the stoically-contemplative Joe's to the chief's landscaped leather. The ensemble is first rate, especially the feisty Ben Foster as Sgt. Charles Wills. The landscapes? well, look at Ford's and feel his tradition.
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