The Western genre has seen a recent decline and strong changes since actors like John Wayne made it what it was back in the day. Lately, more modern entries have placed traditional cowboy characters either in a sci-fi setting or in a comedic environment to get them the label of a “spaghetti western.” This is most likely due to the fact that most classic Westerns don’t represent Native Americans in a fair light and that their intense and grounded subject matter does not resonate well with modern movie-goers. So what can make a modern-day Western successful and favorable among today’s viewers?
Thankfully, Scott Cooper’s Hostiles does do the genre justice by bringing an intense original story to the big screen. Just after losing her family after a group of Comanche Native Americans slaughter her family, a woman (Rosamund Pike) joins a group of U.S. Marshall’s led by Capt. Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) as they transport Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to his homeland to live out the rest of his days. With Blocker’s hatred toward Yellow Hawk and the Native American race, there is a bloodthirsty tension the second the journey begins.
From start to finish, the film is extremely gruesome, gritty, and heart-breaking and it never really lets go of these feelings. Each bullet that fires out of every gun ignites a fierce struggle that showcases some great gunfights that audiences will love. These scenes offer very suspenseful moments that will have audiences constantly questioning who will come out alive. However, because the film is mostly filled with dramatic and depressing themes there aren’t many light-hearted moments that can let audiences feel anything outside of dread for the characters on-screen.
Bale is without a doubt a stand-out amongst the cast with his performance showing the truly internal struggle that Capt. Blocker faces as he must come to terms with his feelings on Yellow Hawk. Audiences will be able to resonate and feel Blocker’s character arc change throughout his journey and feel like they might be able to relate to his changing personality.
Outside of Bale, though, there are not many other performances that bring anything fresh or interesting to the film. Pike has moments of total triumph that make viewers
understand her dread and disgust towards Chief Yellow Hawk and his family, but these moments are drowned out at times by her over-dramatic reactions that can take you out of the moment.
One thing that make Hostiles unique amongst other Westerns is how it chooses to show different sides to Native American culture. On one hand, there are the Comanche, who are shown to be immensely brutal and savage as they destroy anything in their path, and on the other hand there is Chief Yellow Hawk, who is shown to be more stoic and peaceful thanks to Studi’s performance. While both of these sides have been shown in other films, seeing the two collide shows audiences as well as Capt. Blocker and his group that although the two groups are of the same culture, there actions and attitude are not the same.
Overall, Hostiles shows that the Western genre isn’t truly dead yet, but it still has some ways to go. Although the film is definitely drowned in sorrow for most of the run-time, with the help of Bale’s performance as well as fair representations, Hostiles will still be appreciated by audiences for its fresh and emotional story.