(Director Scott Cooper) 4 stars
Hostiles opens with a forbidding D.H. Lawrence quote: “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. It has never yet melted”, which is an effective scene-setter for this frontier western set in 1893. Captain Blocker (Christian Bale) is a US Cavalry officer and grizzled veteran of the Indian wars. Approaching retirement, he is horrified to be given a last mission to escort his former, enemy Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family from a New Mexico prison to Montana. The chief is dying of cancer and the President no less has given orders that he should be allowed to live his final days on a tribal reservation. An outspoken racist Blocker reluctantly agrees to the mission only when threatened with court-martial should he refuse.
Shortly into their journey Blocker’s small troop rescue Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) sheltering in the burnt-out husk of her home, traumatized by the attack on her family by a Comanche war party that we see in the film’s savage opening sequence. So this unlikely band begin their long trek through the wild and hazardous American interior. The imposing landscape is the uncredited star of the film and the cinematography beautifully captures the sheer scale of its mountains, plains and ravines.
But the real heartbeat of the film is in the emotional and not physical journeys that Blocker and Quaid make as their instinctive fear and loathing of Yellow Hawk and his family gradually transforms to trust and respect. So whilst the hostiles of the title are initially Native Americans, Blocker’s enemies increasingly become his fellow settlers.