In 1892, a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory.

Westerns are probably not the most popular genre of cinema these days but it does feel like there’s been a mini revival in recent years, with films such as ‘Bone Tomahawk’ and ‘The Hateful Eight’ being joined by TV series such as Netflix’s ‘Godless’ in gaining acclaim, and ‘Hostiles’ is another strong entry in the genre. Directed by Scott Cooper (‘Black Mass’, ‘Out of the Furnace’ and ‘Crazy Heart’), ‘Hostiles’ is a brutal, violent western that follows a U.S. Cavalry officer (Christian Bale) who is ordered to escort a Cheyenne war chief, Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their home in Montana in the late 1800s. To get there, the group must travel through dangerous terrain where the party are at risk from a range of people including other groups of Native Americans, fur gatherers and people who have claimed Indian land for their own.

The group is led by Christian Bale’s Captain Joseph J. Blocker and Bale’s smouldering performance is superb, internalising most of his thoughts yet shining when he starts to develop a grudging respect for Yellow Hawk and his family after initially displaying nothing but contempt. It’s great to see Wes Studi again and he plays off Bale well, providing a counterpoint to Bale’s militaristic outlook and the scenes they share where they discuss the past lead them to realise they have more in common than first thought. Rosamund Pike is also excellent as the third lead, playing a woman who we meet at the beginning in a particularly nasty encounter with a group of Comanche Indians, which leaves her family for dead. She’s discovered by the travelling party and joins them on their journey north. The film does suffer a little in the midsection with perhaps one too many stops on the journey and the introduction of a character played by Ben Foster that feels like a sideline to the main plot (albeit it’s always good to see Ben Foster in something), but when the performances are as well judged and the visuals of the American Midwest are as gorgeous it’s hard to complain too much.

Hostiles’ is a compelling western that displays the sheer lawlessness and violence of the Old West, shown through some superb performances. It does feel like this could have been a great movie with some minor tweaks, but this is a strong movie nonetheless that explores the morality of the American frontier through the morally compromised people that lived and breathed it.

Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Scott Cooper

Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Stephen Lang, Timothée Chalamet, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Jonathan Majors, Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher, Peter Mullan, Robyn Malcolm, Paul Anderson, Scott Wilson, Bil Camp, John Benjamin Hickey, Scott Shepherd and Ryan Bingham

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