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Film Review: Hostiles

Despite it now being 2018, the level of intolerance and hatred in the world, especially in America, remains at an archaic level. With his latest film Hostiles, director Scott Cooper (Black Mass) offers a thoughtful, gritty exploration of the relationship between the Native American people and those who killed them and took their land, making a film that parallels the emotion and beauty of 2016’s The Revenant.

A lead performance of the highest quality

Despite possessing a truly stacked cast, including Paul Anderson (Peaky Blinders), Ben Foster (Hell or High Water), Jesse Plemons (Black Mirror) and soon to be Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), this film truly revolves around two characters. Firstly there’s Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), who plays Mrs Quaid, a mother/wife shattered by the actions of the film’s blisteringly brutal opening sequence. Her initial delusion and hatred for the Native people following the shocking opening is the hallmark of a typically classy performance from Pike, who reasserts the fact that she is surely one of Hollywood’s most underrated actresses. Her character develops gracefully and it’s further testament to Pike that whilst certain aspects of the film slow down and become disengaging at points, she truly does not.

It’s no secret that this year’s Best Actor race has almost surely already been won by Gary Oldman, but the failure to even include the precociously gifted Christian Bale in the conversation for a nomination feels like an injustice. His ferocious, moving performance as US Army Captain Joseph Blocker isn’t a typical Bale role that requires a drastic physical transformation, but it is one of his most memorable nonetheless. Tasked with escorting one of his greatest Native American adversaries to an ancient burial ground, his initial hatred for the Native people fuels scenes imbued with powerfully portrayed bitterness and disgust, and is unfortunately an accurate yet unintentional depiction of the Neanderthal-like behaviours of some American people today. The journey Blocker takes as a character is wholly redemptive and helps to further excel Bale’s performance once the gritty, emotional life of being a solider begins to ooze it’s way into the story. It’s truly another brilliant performance by Bale in a career of many that is sadly being overlooked this awards season.

A resonating reflection of a broken country

Technically speaking, this sprawling, beautiful journey, much like The Revenant, captures America’s stunning natural beauty with some truly breathtaking cinematography, and in a year where we’ve had some of the best shots perhaps ever, Hostiles stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the very best. These shots are accompanied by bold sound editing and a score that perfectly captures the film’s tone whilst providing some of the more subtly soul-shattering moments. One of the film’s obvious problems lies within its dialogue, which at times is almost impossible to hear, disguised by thick accents that require the subtitles just as much as the film’s usage of the poetic Native American language. Certainly its pacing at times is off and it’s in between some exquisite, silent wide shots and the film’s brutal action sequences that it dawdles as the heavy periods of dialogue take over, with a lot second act dragging slightly too much to really engage the viewer.

Whilst it is a beautifully profound yet not perfect picture, the resonating tone of this film finds itself unintentionally relevant to the shambolic world we live in. The thoughtful portrayal of the racial tensions between the Native American people and their (mostly) white oppressors is sadly a problem still awfully rife today. With Trump’s rise to power reinvigorating the far-right, the problem with racism in America is once again spiralling, and this film is a timely reminder about people’s treatment of their fellow humans. The film demonstrates America’s natural beauty effortlessly but paints a picture of its bleakness and ugly, violent history based on prejudice, whilst admirably attempting to teach everyone to never judge on race, a vital but sadly necessary message.

The Verdict

It’s hard to see how Hostiles has escaped the awards conversation to the extent that it has, with Bale’s terrific performance and the film’s astounding cinematography being unfairly overlooked. Whilst in no way can this film be described as a masterpiece, with its hard to hear dialogue and dawdling second act, its most impactful part comes from its resonating message. For years to come this film should be remembered for its reflection on a country so beautiful yet so torn apart by certain people’s intolerance for people of a different race, a shameful blight on modern society that Cooper addresses perfectly, making this an important piece of cinema that’s really worth the watch.

Rating: 8/10

Words by Elliott Jones

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