Simon Dillon reviews the new western from director Scott Cooper.


Hostiles, a new western from director Scott Cooper, features a particularly savage opening. Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) is schooling her young children at their remote homestead whilst her husband chops wood outside. They are then attacked by a marauding party of Comanche. The homestead is burned, the husband scalped, and the children (including a baby) shot dead.

Rosalie is subsequently discovered by Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), an embittered Yankee soldier assigned to transport Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their Montana homeland, as a result of Presidential order, following their seven year incarceration. Captain Blocker and his men have also committed atrocities in their battles with various Native American groups, but Blocker's pathological hatred for his charges begins to gradually change as he takes the tough but traumatised Rosalie under his protection. However, their journey to Montana is fraught with danger from Comanche and other hostile parties.

In one sense, this is nothing we haven't seen before. The Searchers and The Outlaw Josey Wales in particular are clear influences. However, Cooper has crafted a very fine western. Performances from Bale and Pike are both outstanding, Masanobu Takayanagi's cinematography is moody and beautiful, and Max Richter contributes an atmospheric music score.

Returning to the afore-mentioned shocking violence, there is plenty more as well as the brutal opening, and it's worth adding an additional warning for strong language. However, none of it felt gratuitous given the subject matter. Indeed, from a moral/spiritual perspective, Hostiles is ultimately a very redemptive story. It condemns war atrocities and the appalling damage to the perpetrator as much as the victim, yet also has a Judeo-Christian underpinning that emphasises kindness and forgiveness, hinting that even a soul as tormented and lost as Blocker's can again find meaning and purpose.

All things considered, Hostiles is a grim, gripping and violent piece of work, shot through with melancholia, as are all great westerns. It also features one of the best closing shots that I've seen for a while. CR

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