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Western takes aim at modern America

Christian Bale plays grizzled war veteran who embarks on a gruelling journey in film that questions humans’ relentless pursuit of resources

02 January, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Christian Bale in Hostiles

Directed by Scott Cooper
Certificate: 15

CHRISTIAN Bale attempts to channel his inner Eastwood in this well-paced western that cherry-picks from the best in the genre and then overlays reference points to the crisis in the USA today to give it some contemporary resonance.

This film reads as a heroic love story, but within it is a parable about human beings blinded by their urge to capture resources, and how that makes them behave to perceived rivals and competitors.

Joe (Bale) is the grizzled war veteran asked to accompany a previous adversary Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) from a New Mexican prison outpost back to his home in Montana to die in peace.

Joe, Yellow Hawk, his family and a group of soldiers have a perilous mission to complete – and things get complicated en route as they come across Rosalee Quaid (Rosamund Pike), the shocked sole survivor of a Comanche attack that saw her family butchered. She joins them on the 1,000-mile trek through tough country, under attack and facing up to their own personal demons as they go.

While there is plenty to admire about this film – technically it is excellent, and it creates shades of good and bad, without being lazy or straightforward – there are some points that grate and undermine the overall picture.

The native American characters speak in an odd, stilted, forced language, as if the idea of communicating in this way has only just occurred to them. And what piffle comes out: it appears this tribe speaks only in New Age platitudes and homilies lifted from Athena-type posters. It’s a shame, because it under­mines a film with a good heart.

The fight for resources, the doing of wrong by one group to another – these are all important topics for us to face today, especially with the entrenchment of arrogant, intellectually bankrupt right-wing ideologues running America.

Perhaps a western that tries to confront this should be welcomed – though it also has a touch of John Wayne about it when it comes to the portrayal of a gang of Comanche warriors, out to kill and steal.

Added to this is the downright grimness of the violence that infiltrates every scene.

While film-makers should never shy away from what they are trying to say – and at the heart of this film is the idea of man’s inhumanity to one another as our thirst for resources starts to bite – it is a very dark heart indeed. The small tokens of redemption offered jar when you consider the hideous violence they have both been subjected to.

As with all good westerns, the scenery, creating an idea of space, of a horizon, of adventuring into the unknown and our smallness as an individual, is just stunning. Saddle up and enjoy.


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