Hostiles is a quite interesting western that convinces with stunning landscapes, intriguing characters and strong acting performances. The movie has a quite slow pace, so don't expect a vivid American or Italian western from the fifties and sixties. This movie is a drama above all, situated in a historically intriguing period between the American Civil War and the emergency of the Industrial Revolution.
The story revolves around Captain Joseph Blocker, who has lost many friends and brothers in arms in battles against Apaches and who openly despises them. He tracks them down pitilessly and tells himself that he is doing his duty while people around him start becoming depressed and disillusioned. One day, a colonel gives him a final order before his retirement,direct from the President. Joseph Blocker must escort a dying Cheyenne Chief, his personal arch enemy, as well as his family back to their tribal lands as a sign of reconciliation with the First Nations. The captain, who has always obeyed orders, is about to refuse but is menaced and forced to cooperate. He gathers a few faithful brothers in arms and must also cooperate with some inexperienced rookies around him to go on this dangerous trip. On the way from New Mexico to Montana, the unusual group faces numerous challenges as they face difficult weather conditions, a hostile Comanche party and racist landowners among others. They are joined by numerous other intriguing characters such as a mentally unstable woman who has lost her entire family to the Apaches and a former brother in arms of the captain who is about to be hanged. However, their biggest challenge is to fight their inner demons and overcome their differences in order to survive in hostile territory.
The movie finds the right balance between violent sequences that focus on the witnesses' reactions rather than graphic elements and clever dialogues between the diversified cast of characters. The most fascinating character is Captain Joseph Blocker, who seems to be a pitiless racist at first sight but who turns out to be a man with a strong moral compass who goes through a coming-of-age on this fateful journey and ends up not only forgiving the Indians for killing his partners but even empathizing and sympathizing with them, ending up defending them beyond duty. His positive development exemplifies the difficult relationship between European settlers and America's First Nations and is ultimately a sign of forgiveness, hope and peace. This positive moral contrasts the quite sinsiter mood of the film with an elevated body count and sensitive topics such as depression, revenge and suicide as many characters shatter under the burden of the challenging order.
Hostiles is a film that needs some patience and time to unfold but ends up being particularly rewarding thanks to the strong moral behind the sinister mask. Christian Bale, one of the world's greatest actors, even delivers the best performance of his career as tough anti-hero with just as many flaws as strengths. Above all, Hostiles is a film that is profoundly human, in all its sickening darkness interrupted by some rays of light. The perfect ending exemplifies this mixture perfectly. Western and drama fans should experience this film at the cinema and fans of Christian Bale just can't get around this movie either. Hollywood should produce more westerns and less superhero movies.
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