Moving at roughly the same pace as a funeral dirge, filmmaker Scott Cooper’s third film, Hostiles, is a well-intentioned effort eventually undone by its sheer over-length and overall sluggishness.  It’s clear that Cooper is making a sincere attempt at pointing out injustices that were thrust upon the early Native American settlers who came to this land only to have it taken from their grasp. I’ll certainly give him points for his willingness to make a social statement but that’s where the accolades end for me.

Unfortunately, whatever positive message Cooper intended his audience to take away is diluted so much that by the end of the film it’s a bit tough to recall the points that the writer-director wanted to drill home.  All the right elements are there but they’re spaced so far apart that they never quite seem to come together. The execution of the film is likely to tax even the most patient viewers and will make movie enthusiasts recall the deadening pace of Michael Cimino’s four hour western, Heaven’s Gate. Yes, it that’s kind of an affair.

Clearly, Cooper has been influenced by director-star Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Best Picture winner, Unforgiven. There are even snatches of dialogue in this film that seem to have been lifted and reworked from that earlier film. While that film had some slow stretches as well it benefited from a tremendously powerful final act, a template that this film certainly could have used to its benefit.

Set in the West of 1892, Hostiles opens with a powerful scene involving mother and wife, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), bearing witness to the slaughter of her family at the hands of Native Americans. In a separate plot thread, Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), is tasked with escorting a dying Native American chief and his family back to their homeland. The chief simply wants to die in a land that once belonged to his people. Blocker and Rosalie cross paths along the way and team up to defend themselves against both her family’s killers and the racists littering the land who wish to extinguish anyone that isn’t quite like them.

The film’s plot definitely looks good on paper but Hostiles is filled with so many long stretches of dialogue doing little of advancing the narrative forward that a certain amount of patience is required. This is a movie that has all of the elements in order – great cast, superb photography, etc. – but manages to squander them all just for the sake of making a half baked attempt at profundity. A little more plot and little less philosophizing would have gone a long way in making this one succeed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come close and it’s certainly no cigar.

Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike & Wes Studi in Hostiles.
This movie is playing in Hickory.

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