Christian Bale plays a U.S. Army captain in Scott Cooper’s tough 1890s period piece
“Hostiles” is bleak.
This 1890s-set Western is a deliberately slow and meditative study of vengeance, the nature of man and the journey of a soul. It stars Christian Bale as a seen-it-all U.S. Army captain tasked with transporting a Cheyenne chief from New Mexico to his homeland in Montana, a task about as welcome as ingesting several mouthfuls of dirt a day. Not fun.
But orders are orders, and Bale’s Capt. Joseph J. Blocker (along with a small crew that includes characters played by Jesse Plemons and “Call Me By Your Name’s” Timothée Chalamet) hit the trails. Along the way, they encounter a widow (Rosamund Pike) whose husband and children are slaughtered in the film’s brutal, bloody, jarring opening scene, and a wild card played by perennial wild card Ben Foster, who ups the ante on the film’s tension and keeps everyone on their toes.
Writer-director Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart” and “Out of the Furnace,” also with Bale) paces “Hostiles” as the slowest of slow burns; he wants you to feel the emptiness and the expanse of the surroundings (expertly photographed by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi) and the weight of the physical and mental toll on Blocker. He does an exceptional job, and Bale makes you feel Blocker’s anguish. Tougher to swallow is the character’s inner transition, and Cooper’s script feels like it takes several short cuts on the way to the film’s upbeat — relatively speaking, at least — finale.
Still, “Hostiles” leaves a mark, and Bale gives the kind of smoldering performance that he’s used to delivering. In a heavy film, he brings the weight.
Rated R for strong violence, and language
Running time: 135 minutes