Review: Christian Bale is compelling in gritty western Hostiles

Christian Bale as Captain Joseph Blocker in Hostiles. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors/Lorey S

Christian Bale as Captain Joseph Blocker in Hostiles. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors/Lorey Sebastian - Credit: Entertainment Film Distributors

Christian Bale plays a grizzled army captain in writer-director Scott Cooper's solid but sometimes standard revisionist western, set during the final years of the bloodthirsty war between the US Army and Native Americans.

Rosamund Pike as Rosalie Quaid and Christian Bale as Captain Joseph Blocker in Hostiles. Photo: Ente

Rosamund Pike as Rosalie Quaid and Christian Bale as Captain Joseph Blocker in Hostiles. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors/Lorey Sebastian - Credit: Entertainment Film Distributors/Lorey Sebastian

Hostiles (15)

****

With Christian Bale, life is always intense. With each performance it is just a matter of degree, and whether this intensity is in sync with the material around him.

In this very grand and solemn western, he plays a grizzled, injun-hating army captain who is commanded to return a sworn enemy, Cheyenne chief Studi, who's 'dying of the cancer,' to his tribal land.


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And in this film he's just exactly what is required. It begins with a quote from D.H. Lawrence, 'The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.'

Adapted from an unproduced manuscript by screenwriter Donald E Stewart, Hostiles finds Bale compelling as a refined savage trying to make sense of his brutal urges after an unexpected encounter with the sole survivor of a Comanche attack (Rosamund Pike).

Ben Foster as Sergeant Charles Wills and Christian Bale as Captain Joseph Blocker in Hostiles. Photo

Ben Foster as Sergeant Charles Wills and Christian Bale as Captain Joseph Blocker in Hostiles. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors - Credit: Entertainment Film Distributors

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This grief-numbed widow, whose husband and children have been slaughtered by Comanches, and who accepts a new commission to escort murderer Sergeant Charles Wills (Ben Foster) to the gallows, is both a victim and an angel of compassion and mercy.

The film has very strong opening 15 minutes which hint at a Cormac McCarthy-style exploration of the gruesome soul of the American West, but once the group leave the base it becomes much more the standard modern revisionist western.

There are Iraq war allegories, messages about the futility of violence. You couldn't really find much to flaw with the cast, or the cinematography of the breathtaking Mountain States by Japanese cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, or the music, but it lacks that magic little something that would make it something special. It's a good film, but liable to be soon forgotten.

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