Hostiles: a somber story

Here we go another time. Two years ago and then again last year I complained about the lack of decent new releases hitting the theaters this time of year. Perhaps a columnist from the Los Angeles Times described it best, “For decades, spring was largely considered a kind of dead zone in Hollywood’s release calendar, an island of cinematic misfit toys lacking a coherent identity or much inherent appeal for film distributors. In everyone’s minds there’s the holiday season, there’s awards seasons, there’s the summer movie season – and then there’s spring.”

Well, my calendar says it’s still six or seven weeks to Spring and we’re already there, using Hollywood’s timetable. There are of course a number of last year’s films, some very good still showing. I decided to check out The Shape of Water, after all thirteen Oscar nominations must mean something. It was dreadful; I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy (if I had one). I also wouldn’t waste the print writing a review, which is a first for me after doing this sort of thing for close to ten years.

I ended up choosing Hostiles after the flip of a coin. After all it was advertised as “The best western since Unforgiven.” This by any stretch of the imagination is not a classic western.  There are no saloons, poker games, or fast draw gunfights. The story is set in 1841, where a U.S. Army Captain based in a remote outpost in New Mexico begins his last mission before retirement. Christian Bale plays Capt. Joseph Blocker, and gives us a superior performance, as he always does.


Entertainment Rating: ★★1/2

Rating: R: scattered profanity, violence and death

Possible Oscar Nominations: Already announced, there are none

Most of Blocker’s military career has been spent in the Indian wars, and the horrific memories of the brutality on both sides are haunting. His final orders are to accompany an Indian family from their captivity in New Mexico to their home in Montana.  With a handpicked crew of fellow soldiers they begin the trip.  It’s a “long haul” on horseback close to 1000 miles, with no 7-11s or Starbucks along the way. It’s a perilous journey even without adversaries but it doesn’t take a genius to know there will be some. While there are “bumps in the road,” much of the story dwells on the inner souls, thoughts, memories and feelings of each one of the small band of travelers. Man’s inhumanity to man is never more evident as one after another their stories are recalled.

The acting is superb by all players and the Western scenery is amazing. This is nevertheless a somber story, it moves slowly and deliberately through each scene, and not once is there a smile or a tiny moment of levity. The players are all depressed to one degree or another through the whole film, and along the way it’s not too hard for the viewer to begin to share their feelings. Even so there were a fair number of folks in the theater who seemed to enjoy the movie, although no one was smiling as they walked out.

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