Christian Bale Goes West, with a Vengeance

The Florida Times Union, January 26, 2018 | Go to article overview

Christian Bale Goes West, with a Vengeance


By Michael Phillips

Tribune News Service

In "Hostiles," a solemnly bloody tale of white redemption in the Old West from writerdirector Scott Cooper, Christian Bale does all his truest, best acting in between his actual lines of dialogue. The time is 1892. Bale's character is a U.S. Army captain who has seen much slaughter, and has done a vengeful lion's share of killing himself, in the wars against the Native American tribes.

Working from material written decades ago by Donald Stewart, Cooper's film follows a redemptive journey north from New Mexico to Montana, as the fiercely bigoted Capt. Joseph Blocker and his men, on orders from President Harrison, escort a longimprisoned and now dying Cheyenne war chief, played by Wes Studi, to his ancestral homeland. There, surrounded by his family, Yellow Hawk hopes to die with some measure of peace on his soul.

The hostiles of Cooper's title, of course, refer to various tribes as well as the landgrabbing, governmentsanctioned "settlers." Cooper, whose earlier work includes "Crazy Heart" and the rather undervalued "Black Mass," begins with a deliberately familiar sequence straight out of a hundred previous Westerns. A Comanche attack on white settlers leaves three children and one man dead, a homestead in flames and a suddenly widowed survivor, Rosalee Quaid, played by Rosamund Pike, crazed with grief. Discovered en route to Montana by Blocker and company, Quaid joins the men on the trail north. And, as in Anthony Mann's masterly early '50s highcountry Western "The Naked Spur," a weaselly prisoner in chains (Ben Foster, doing his best, undermining Robert Ryan act) serves as a destabilizing force for all concerned.

Cooper has reworked this 1980sera material to suit his own needs, but for better and for worse, "Hostiles" comes from a halfway point between the early revisionist antiheroic westerns of the '70s and the gentler, patronizing likes of "Dances with Wolves. …

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