“Hostiles” reveals our humanity
By Oscar Chavez Castaneda
“Hostiles” casts its eye on humanity and does not look away; good, bad, and ugly. Everything we are capable of is put on display against the beautiful, unflinching landscapes. Within the epic vistas of the Old West, we glimpse a world that no longer exists. But we see actions that persist to this day.
We follow a band of soldiers escorting a family of freed Cheyenne prisoners, including the sick chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), back to their home in Montana. Their leader, Captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale) is well versed in war and hatred. He is to retire after completing this mission. A mission, he did not want to accept but was forced to take.
On the way, the band meets up with a woman left in the ruins of her burned out home. Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) is drowning in grief. Striding the line between control and despair, we see the depths sorrow can take within the soul of a person who has lost absolutely everything. The spectre of loss follows her throughout the film but it does not set its sights solely on her.
Captain Blocker himself has experienced plenty of loss. As a leader of men, he has to face the consequences of death each time his men fall. A heavy burden, we see how tired Blocker has become. However, we also see how deftly he himself can deliver death upon his enemies.
In the wild frontier, death discriminates against no one. Amidst the serenity of golden plains, blood fills the air and gunpowder burns the nostrils. Underneath the stars, in the pouring rain, blood easily spills onto the forest floor. People live day to day, with tomorrow only a possibility and not a guarantee.
Living under this type of duress, it’s no surprise that people become resilient. Blocker doesn’t flinch as he rains bullets onto his foes. Mrs. Quaid carries on, even with her family buried behind her. Yellow Hawk, terminally ill, can still end a life. Survival is the law of the land and people do whatever they can to do so.
But amidst such hardships, the film also shows us how life gives way to beauty in small, mundane ways. A tearful goodbye between friends. A dress given to a complete stranger. Tobacco, as a token of apology. Beneath the wide blue skies, people may become hardened by circumstance. They can still, however, have compassion for their fellow man.
“Hostiles” proves not to be a rip-roaring tale of Western adventure. It instead provides us with an intimate character study of people dealing with life’s hardships. How they respond is a reflection of what all of us, as people, are capable of. We can harm each other. We can heal each other. We can hate each other. We can love each other.
In the end, we are all people.
“Hostiles” is currently in theatres. It is rated R.
3 ½ out of 4 stars