The beauty of the art is observing the different eras and their changing influence. After all, the numerous genres of today didn’t just crop up out of nowhere. From these eras, one of the ubiquitously recognized ones has to be one of westerns. Even somebody who rarely watches movies could probably name a western, or at the very least describe a Clint Eastwood flick they saw. These movies didn’t keep their place in the industry high for so long exclusively on the marketability of cowboys, however.
These movies added a lot of impactful bits about good morals for the younger audiences that enjoyed them. The messages of indiscriminate goodwill were present in a number of flicks despite the rather grim backdrop of the old west. On the other hand, we had our more selfish protagonists that either aimed to profit or take revenge.
Caring little for other businesses that may sideline them. Regardless of the characters present, the joy of adventure, danger, and justice kept people around long after the golden age of westerns ended. There were plenty of movies since that have tackled the genre, applying the new techniques and ideas to it in order to evolve a long-standing formula.
This often results in some astonishing pieces of cinema as old meets new in a mix of technological advancement and dedication to staying true to the original. One of the more recent examples of this, and one of the best examples of it, is Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles”. This incredible flick mixes a lot of materials present in westerns with some potent cinematography to bring over an exceptionally enjoyable modern western. So let’s see what the movie gets right by revising what makes for a great western.
While westerns usually get disregarded as having simplistic plots, those who watch them frequently know better than that. The possibilities to explore characters and indulge interesting themes are no less present here than in any other genre.
We follow the story of Captain Joseph Blocker, played by Christian Bale, a long-time soldier with a special disdain for Native Americans. The years of combat have accumulated so much prejudice in this character that when he’s ordered to escort Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk, Wes Sudi, and his family to a reservation he refuses only giving in after a few times he’s threatened with court-martial.
He sets off, grim and frustrated, with a group of troops and the Indian family. Along the way, a few exchanges are made between Blocker and the characters in his band but the real big contribution to the plot comes in the form of Rosalee Quaid, Rosamund Pike’s character. The group is faced with an aftermath of a harrowing raid whose only survivor was Quaid. Her husband and children are buried with the help of the escort and the Cheyenne family and they leave together with Quaid. The rest of the movie builds from the dynamic between introduced characters, giving most change to Blocker himself. While very subtle and simple, his change is firmly felt by the end of the movie. The whole journey has a feeling of progressive mutual understanding while still being a thrill ride through badlands. This encompasses the best aspects of westerns into a single movie.
There isn’t a good way to cover the characters in western past those that fit archetypes and tropes. Oftentimes we see very quiet characters who like to keep their words short but their motives complex. Captain Joseph Blocker is one such character. Blocker has a deep past full of tragedy and war. He has spent the better portion of his time alive embroiled in a war that was now reaching its end. Because it has become such a huge part of his life he denies the passage of this era and speaks against the choices of his higher-ups.
During the movie you can see realization seep into his tired eyes and manifest a different outlook for the captain, one a lot more accepting and less hateful. Quaid gives a different angle to the story, as somebody who has just recently suffered a great tragedy yet has lived a more idyllic life. The two make great pillars for a story already but then you have the addition of the chief Yellow Hawk who, together with his family, travels with the two key characters. While other family members add to the overall impact of the two worlds interacting their additions are less consistent and smaller compared to chief Yellow Hawk himself. There are some odd character choices, especially with some of the side cast but it’s easy to overlook due to the formed trio.
There isn’t much to say about the cinematography. Not because it’s bad or mediocre but because it’s perfect. The beautiful look provided by Masanobu Takayanagi reaches far and beyond the best of westerns ever made.
This isn’t the first cooperation between Takayanagi and Cooper. The previous interaction was with Cooper’s Black Mass where Takayanagi took the role of the director of photography. His work is something we firmly encourage you to see on a big screen, or at least as big of a screen as possible. If you are a fan of Scott Cooper Miami Beach director, and his film Hostiles, information on whether the movie is playing or not can be found on the link and will inform you of the current state of the movie’s playing.
Setting and scenery
While the aforementioned characters contributed to the whole endeavor of thrilling moviemaking they will never be as iconic as the places they found themselves in. The harsh deserts with vultures lurking about, cow bones scattered inside of scorching sands, rattlesnakes rattling near our hero’s valiant steed. Not that wastelands were the only place present in westerns, there were forests present at points, along with mines, and small towns that cropped up in the middle of nowhere.
Each one with their very own sheriff and a saloon, staples of the western genre’s towns. The abundance of ranches and forts is yet another notable part of the genre. While we could go on for ages about the beautiful sights, it’s useful to put them into context. In the context of Hostiles, the scenery is fantastic. The long stretches of beautiful nature, ambient sounds following our protagonists as they stumble through their harsh journey. Take any scene out of this movie and you’ll probably find yourself with a beautiful backdrop accompanying the characters. The high quality of production makes it even more dazzling making these scenes alone worth the price of admission.