Hostiles: Not So Friendly West

DATELINE: How the Western Is Lost

 Bale's beard Bale’s Beard

A few more Westerns like writer/director Scott Cooper’s Hostiles and the Western will be killed unceremoniously, gutted “from stem to stern” as they repeatedly say in this movie. And don’t smile when you say that, pardner.

Though we might make a comparison to John Ford’s The Searchers, we’d be way out of line. Though Ford’s John Wayne classic dealt with Indian massacres and brutal revenge, it was also human in its emotions and veered away from tedium in the stunning Western settings.

Christian Bale is a laconic cavalry captain who participated in a massacre of native Americans at Wounded Knee—and now in his final assignment must take a hostile chief and his family to a Montana sanctuary by order of the President.

Constantly prattling on that he merely follows orders, he is prepared not to follow these orders. Yet, this hero is like a good Nazi soldier, doing only his job. Cruel violence pockmarks the storyline amid the tedium. All we hear is discouraging words.

In the older Westerns, you had some likeable characters and some sense of humor to keep sane in the desolate West. Here, the characters are driven mad by their dour natures.

The Captain rescues a woman whose family has been killed by Comanches, and she joins the odd caravan through desert and mountain settings. Along the way we meet Ben Foster as a nasty Indian killer (apparently along to re-team Bale from their successful work in 3:10 to Yuma). Also along briefly is young star Timothy Chalamet, wasted mostly as an inexplicable French horse soldier out west.

Costars are impressive actors like Wes Studi, Stephen Lang, and Scott Wilson. They give the film true grit, however unhappy their roles are.

Bale is so laconic that his imperial beard has more life than he. Not a twitch from that mustachioed hero

The film is so serious about its political messages, all mixed up with revisionism and apologies, that we recognized the genre only in fleeting glimpses. The movie is in the long run, long and predictable.