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Hostiles  : The Big White Guilt Trip
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Friday, February 16, 2018
Action
Scott Cooper
Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane

There’s uncompromising cruelty all around.

 

Rosalie Quaid watches in horror as her husband is scalped and her children are shot dead by a blood-thirsty bunch of Comanches.

 

The white American is no less savage. Dehumanised Captain Joe Blocker watches without sentiment as a native American family is subjugated and humiliated. He wears with pride the badge of being the officer who has the most number of native scalps under his belt. All in the name of duty.

 

It’s disbelief when Blocker is assigned the duty of escorting Yellow Hawk, a dying Apache chieftain, and his family, safely to their homeland in Montana. Blocker’s chosen because he’s the officer who knows the language and the terrain better than any other. It’s an assignment Blocker would rather turn down as he believes the Apaches deserve to be harshly imprisoned for the rest of their lives. But it’s a presidential order and Blocker is left with no choice as he reluctantly puts together a group of his best men to go with him to Montana.

 

Writer-director Scott Cooper undertakes a journey where hostility reigns unchecked until the white American’s conscience awakens. Who’s the real beast in this war against the indigenous natives of a land that belongs to them?

 

But Joe Blocker who begins the trip by chaining Yellow Hawk, thaws and bares an uncharacteristically gentle streak in him when he chances upon the devastated Rosalie Quaid who’s lost her whole family.

 

On the other hand is barbaric blood spill as the Comanches attack again and the Apaches fight them alongside Blocker and his soldiers.  A scene where Yellow Hawk and his son exact retribution from the Comanches is sudden but Blocker’s gradual change of heart is expected.

 

Despite all the apparent guilt, the white American perspective is annoying to an outsider in the continued patronising tone that Cooper unwittingly employs. For instance, the Apaches who’re moved by Rosalie’s plight offer her a change of clothes. Many scenes later, the proud chieftain’s family says they’re honoured that Rosalie wore their clothes. Why on earth should they be honoured because a white woman accepted their kindness and generosity?

 

It’s also a contrived and convenient ending to assuage the American conscience although one must admit Cooper films the last scene on the railway track with superb sensitivity and timing.

 

The cinematography ensures that the territory framed is wild and tempestuous but breathtakingly beautiful.

 

The best performance comes from Christian Bale who uses body language and facial muscle more than dialogue as he goes from perpetrator to protector. Rosamund Pike as traumatised Rosalie has a delicate strength even as she breaks down and picks up the pieces of her life. The Apaches are second class citizens once again as they’ve little to do except look stone-faced.

 

For a film that has its flaws but flows in the right direction of correcting a grievous injustice done to Native Americans, Hostiles gets a 3* rating.

 

Reviewed by
Bharathi S Pradhan

Senior Journalist & Author
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