Filmmaker Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Into the Furnace, Black Mass) starts his new Western more like a horror movie. The Quaid family, led by Wesley and Rosalie (Scott Shepherd and Rosamund Pike), have built a fine little homestead when a violent band of Comanche warriors come looking for horses and slaughter. Pike’s escape is harrowing, especially considering what she loses in the family’s futile flight to safety, and the film establishes a constraining claustrophobia despite being set in such wide-open spaces.
Concurrently, Capt. Joseph “Joe” Blocker (Christian Bale) is given one final order, and it is one this veteran butcher of Native Americans cannot stomach. The president has ordered him to ensure the safe return of Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), a Cheyenne war chief riddled with cancer, and his family back to their Montana homeland. On the trip, he and his little band of soldiers (Rory Cochrane, Jonathan Majors, Jesse Plemons and Timothée Chalamet) encounters Rosalie, as well as the Comanches that killed her family.
Cooper, working from a manuscript by Donald E. Stewart, attempts to meld the two basic native stereotypes of savage and stoic, and Blocker’s enlightened transformation comes off as natural, not compelled. When Ben Foster shows up as a soldier accused of atrocity, the film’s destination becomes much more predictable; Foster has quickly turned from a wonderful young actor to one whose death you want at first glance.
Hostiles moves with too much of a hitch in its step, stopping and starting too often, a flaw more of genre than this film. But oh, the sweet mustaches!