“Hostiles” is a bleak yet compelling western

So far, filmmaker Scott Cooper has yet to really crack through with a true vision. He’s directed Jeff Bridges to an Oscar with Crazy Heart, as well as had would be awards players in Black Mass and Out of the Furnace. Still, his work felt very anonymous, like for hire jobs that anyone could have done. That’s not a knock on his skills, but simply that he’d never left his own mark on a movie yet. That has changed now with his latest outing, the bleak western Hostiles. It feels like everything Cooper has done so far has led him to this flick.

This movie is a western set in 1892. After a horrific opening detailing the slaughter of everyone Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) loves, we meet legendary Army captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale). About to set out on his last mission before retirement, it’s one he’s only reluctantly agreed to. The task is to escort a Cheyenne chief named Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family through dangerous territory in order to allow the chief to die with dignity at his home. Blocker organizes a group of men to go with him, and they set out. Soon, however, they stumble upon Rosalie, still in shock from her tragedy. They take her in, though this puts them even further on the radar of a brutal Comanche tribe. Suffice to say, much blood will be spilt on this excursion. Cooper writes and directs, with the fine ensemble cast also including Adam Beach, Bill Camp, Timothée Chalamet, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Q’orianka Kilcher, Jonathan Majors, Peter Mullan, Jesse Plemons, Scott Shepherd, Scott Wilson, and more. Some terrific cinematography is provided by Masanobu Takayanagi, while a haunting score comes to us from Max Richter.

I’m not joking when I say this film is brutal. The opening sequence details at least one death that is literally shocking. Cooper goes there. Beyond that, the movie is very deliberate, pace wise, almost to a fault, though it earns the big beats. Bale and Pike are reliably great, while Studi is excellent in his supporting turn. The highlight for me is actually the cinematography of Takayanagi, who deserves awards consideration. If the film has a weak point, it’s the ending, but that merely keeps a very good flick from being a great one. Under the radar, this is one of 2017’s better surprises.

Oscar wise, Hostiles may be debuting too late in the game to leave a mark, but the quality is there. Academy Award consideration is warranted in Best Picture, Best Director (for Cooper), Best Actor (for Bale), Best Supporting Actor (for Studi), Best Supporting Actress (for Pike), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Cooper as well), Best Cinematography, and Best Original Score. Most of these are long shots, though watch out for Cinematography to happen. It’s certainly good enough. There’s also an outside possibility for Bale to shock in Actor or for Cooper to take advantage of a rough Adapted Screenplay category. Stay tuned to find out…

Here is how I would rank Cooper’s filmography to date:

4. Black Mass
3. Crazy Heart
2. Out of the Furnace
1. Hostiles

Starting tomorrow, you can be on the lookout for Hostiles, which asks a lot out of its audience. If you’re willing to subject yourself to the brutality and slow pace, you’ll be in for a treat. It won’t meet you halfway, but not all great movies will. Bale fans looking for another intense turn from the actor won’t be disappointed in the least. This is an exciting new direction for Cooper, who now is really on my radar as a filmmaker to watch out for. You probably will have to search around a bit for this one, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Give it a shot and see what you think…

Be sure to check out Hostiles, in theaters on a platform basis this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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