For a moment or two, Hostiles seems like it’s going to be a star-studded western adventure, a rousing popcorn-muncher in the vein of Silverado or The Magnificent Seven. (The less said about the recent, shitty remake of The Magnificent Seven, the better.) Hostiles’ supporting roles are stuffed with big names: There’s Jesse Plemons, thanklessly playing third fiddle to Christian Bale’s gruff Captain Joseph Blocker and his drunkard second-in-command, a beardy, terrific Rory Cochrane (Dazed and Confused). There’s Ben Foster as a traitorous officer on the way to his own hanging. And there’s newly minted “it” boy Timothée Chalamet as a slender, French-accented private who’s not quite sure why he was chosen for the mission.
But for all that window-dressing, writer/director Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart) is more interested in the interior story of Blocker, who’s desperate to finish out his army service and collect his pension. Assigned to bring a Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and his family to their tribe’s ancestral home in Montana, Blocker has to swallow his racism as he reluctantly escorts them through Comanche territory, where they encounter Rosalie Quaid (a fantastic Rosamund Pike) in the aftermath of a tragedy.
Hostiles’ questions are broad and obvious: When white men travel through Native country, who are the real hostiles? When a man helps a woman in distress, could perhaps she be saving him? And isn’t the most dangerous thing on the frontier man himself?
But Cooper has made a western for western fans, a movie that isn’t afraid to contemplate Philosophy 101 themes against backdrops of pastoral beauty. The movie oscillates between short bursts of gut-churning action and long, quiet stretches of thoughtful sorrow—stretches that some will no doubt find tedious. But for western fans, this grim, regret-filled, mud-covered, symbolism-laden tale will be pure heaven.