Scott Cooper is not a subtle filmmaker. Further proof of this comes in the first five minutes of his Hostiles, when two young children and a swaddled baby are killed by the rifles of marauding Comanches. Beginning in 1890s New Mexico, Cooper’s latest follows the bigoted, war-weary army Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) after he is ordered to safely escort the dying Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), a fierce warrior who has been imprisoned in Fort Berrington for seven years, to his homeland in Montana. A short time into their journey, Blocker and company add Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), the grieving mother of the aforementioned murdered children who is found at her burned home, still clutching the lifeless baby in her arms. (I repeat, Scott Cooper is not subtle.)
Theoretically, Hostiles is a necessary film for this moment: the treatment of abhorrent treatment of Native populations has been ignored for too long and the recent events at Standing Rock have rightly brought this to increased public attention. Practically, however, Hostiles is a well-intentioned disaster. Characters are dispatched with extraordinary haste, and none outside of the spiritually-ill Metz (Rory Cochrane) leave much of an impression. But the biggest issue here is Cooper’s handling of the indigenous characters: impressive actors like Studi, Adam Beach, and Q’orianka Kilcher exist solely for the benefit of white redemption rather than being written as real, human characters in their own right. Hostiles is saved from being a complete loss thanks to the frequently gorgeous cinematography from DP Masanobu Takayanagi, who imbues a few Malickian touch. Respectfully, though, no amount of visual aplomb would be able to save this misguided and entirely tone-deaf pat-on-the-back from Scott Cooper.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 1.