Writer/director Scott Cooper seemed blessed with extraordinary freshman luck when Crazy Heart was released 9 years ago. With Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-winning performance in the lead, T-Bone Burnet’s hauntingly winsome soundtrack as background and benefiting from Cooper’s pared down dialogue, the film was a critical and box-office success. His sophomore effort, an earnest examination of blue-collar despair (Out of the Furnace) featured a wonderfully subdued performance by Christian Bale, but fared poorly upon release. Cooper was next at the helm of Black Mass, a decidedly mediocre crime drama starring a miscast Johnny Depp. At 48, Cooper is no longer the darling of Hollywood and his latest effort isn’t going to add to his luster.
Cooper joins forces with Bale again in this well-intentioned Odyssey through the sunset of American Indian power in the southwest of the 1890’s. Bale plays a career Army captain ordered to escort aIndian chieftain and his family from a prison cell at a New Mexico army post back to their ancestral home in the mountains of Montana. Along the way, Bale and his small company of enlisted men encounter a recent victim of Indian violence, white-trash sexual assault at the hands of roving thugs, Army deserters and blatant prejudice from army bureaucrats and ranchers most of whom even refuse the right of Indians to bury their dead in ancestral ground.
The storyline is worthy and Bale’s taciturn Army officer is splendid, but the rest of the film falls off the rails thanks to miscasting, bewilderingly composed sets, repetitive panoramic shots of the West’s stunning scenery and muddled speeches by enlisted men that begin enigmatically end in obscurity. Even the compelling Ben Foster (Hell or High Water) can’t bring a consistent rationale to his actions as a deserter forced to join Bale’s pilgrimage on route to his own execution.
Rosamund Pike is a stunningly handsome woman, but her features are more conducive to modeling clothes in Vogue than playing a traumatized widow rendered childless by bloodthirsty savages. She’s not helped by the film’s wardrobe department; with crisp-brimmed hats and tailored riding clothes, she looks as out of place here as a beauty shop would in a corn field and the script denies her the opportunity to more logically progress from embittered survivor to loving attendant to an Indian orphan in the film’s final reel.
While Hostile faithfully records the beauty of its locations in the Southwest, the movie is plagued with physical sets that look as though they were constructed two days before the shooting schedule. A supposedly aging army barracks looks eerily similar to a block of east coast track housing and the isolated ranch house featured in the opening scene looks as crisply polished as a backdrop for a photo shoot in House and Garden. Even the scenes focused on the daily chore of setting up small campsites in the open offer little suggestion of the privations one would encounter when traveling for many weeks in the 19th century over hundreds of miles rugged, largely unchartered territory.
Despite Hostile’s earnest attempt to convey a white majority slowly coming to grips with its treatment of native populations, the soap-opera quality of the characters only makes Hostiles emotional conversions more blatant – and I can remember no movie in recent memory that tips its saccharine closing scene so far in advance. While Hostiles may be nobly intended, it’s amateurishly executed, despite a compelling performance by its star.
The Verdict? An overlong paean to a Hollywood staple that’s sadly wide of the mark.Jake's Takes comments powered by Disqus