I had read quite a bit about this movie leading up to seeing it this weekend but, curiously, had nod seen a single ad. All I really knew was the Christian Bale's performance was getting raves (big surprise), the basic plot synopsis, and that I had enjoyed Scott Cooper's previous films. I had a bit of a bad feeling going in that it might be slow, preachy, and obvious but considering one review came right out and said this was the best American Western of the last twenty years, I was cautiously hopeful.
I should have listened to my instincts.
Hostiles isn't as unbearably overlong and self-important as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but it's close. In fact, it might not even be quite as good as that movie. At least I was fully engaged with all the characters in that film. In Hostiles, it really is just Bale and the people standing around him. The movie is way too long, very slow in the middle, and just not very engaging.
I can't say I hated it because the acting is great all around, except for a badly out of her element Rosamond Pike. Rory Cochrane, Scott Wilson, Jesse Plemmons, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Stephen Lang, Ben Foster, etc. all turn in great work even if their characters aren't that strong. And then there's Bale. Hostiles works best when thought of as really great showcase for the brilliance of Christian Bale, how natural, how carefully constructed, how emotionally raw, and at times remarkably subtle a performer he can be. I truly believe in the future his name will be mentioned in the same breath as Marlon Brando and Robert de Niro. But he really needs to find himself better material. Like Exodus, the last thing I remember seeing him in, Hostiles shows him doing great work in a barely okay movie.
The problems I have with this movie are that the lead actress is stiff and awkward, playing a complex character whose arc does not even remotely land. The supporting characters are mostly disposable with only Cochrane, Studi, Foster, and a guy named Jonathan Majors who plays the sole black member of Bale's battalion really making any impact.
The pacing is all off. The movie grabs you by the throat in the first thirty minutes then just kind of tapers off until the finale. And even then, the plot isn't nearly as smart or impactful as it thinks it is. Most of the time, you'll know exactly where a scene is going from the moment it starts. Honestly, I knew exactly where the movie was going after reading its plot synopsis on IMDB.
Christian Bale plays a soldier ordered to transport some captive natives across Western country which he reluctantly agrees to do because he has been at war with natives in general and the chief, played by Wes Studi, specifically. And he picks up Pike's pretty widow along the way. If you watch movies, you can guess every beat pretty much from there. Brotherhood of man, whites are just savage as the native "savages," romance blooms in unlikely places, etc. Oh, we're all awful for taking native land. The movie is just too proud of itself, too filled with Indie movie "big important movie" pretension to be as obvious as it is.
I wanted it to surprise me, to deviate a little, to do just one thing I really didn't expect but it just doesn't. At least not until the last ten minutes of the movie when Scott Wilson rides in for his bit part.
I can't say I didn't like the movie at all. I did actually really like the first third, Christian Bale is amazing, and there are great moments sprinkled throughout. I just wish Bale could get more work in better films.
Hey Hollywood. how about letting Bale and Tom hardy face off again, but without the masks this time. It would be a treat for film fans and almost certainly better than the last few Bale films released.