Native Tongue: Thoughtful 'Hostiles' is a different kind of western
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Director: Scott Cooper
Writer: Scott Cooper (screenplay), Donald E. Stewart (manuscript)
Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi
Genre: Adventure, Western, Drama
Rated: R for strong violence, and language
Synopsis: Set in 1892, an Army captain is tasked with escorting his former enemy, a Cheyenne chief, and his family back to their tribe’s land in Montana.
Review: The older I get the more I realize how little I was taught about the rich culture of the various Native American tribes. I grew up in and around Salt Lake City, a place literally surrounded by Native American history, but I can’t remember a history class where I was taught about Native Americans in a way that wasn’t directly connected to a Caucasian narrative. And when we talk about Native Americans we tend to group them all together, rather than celebrating the different tribes and their unique attributes. Most of my memories of learning about Native Americans was in art classes.
“Hostiles” isn’t a crash course in Native American history, but it offers a view into what their lives were like after their lands were taken and their families incarcerated or of killed. It also explores the idea that our identities are in part defined by where we are from. Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) lost his land and his culture.
Identity is also defined by what you do. In the case of Capt. Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), his life has been defined almost entirely by his hatred for his enemy. An enemy that he is now asked to not only escort, but to also protect.
Blocker’s life and the deaths of those who served with him are rendered meaningless in an instant.
We are also defined, at least initially, by our family. Rosamund Pike plays Rosalie Quaid, a woman who in the opening scene of the film loses her family in an act of violence. Blocker has no family to speak of.
“Hostiles” is a film about people looking to fill a void that exists inside of themselves because their sense of self has been stripped away. It is bloody and vicious at times, but it is also soulful.
There are aspects to the story that feel a bit rushed, particularly when it comes to Blocker’s story arc, but that doesn’t undermine the central themes.
Maybe, to a degree, Kylo Ren was right. We do need to let the past die.