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Christian Bale

“HOSTILES” My rating: B-

133 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Westerns have always been a guilty pleasure (violent melodramas aimed at little boys and grown men who still think like little boys), but one cannot recall another Western that so openly oozes guilt as does “Hostiles.”

Written and directed by Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart,” “Out of the Furnace,” “Black Mass”) and based on a 20-year-old manuscript by the late Donald E. Stewart (“Missing” and three of the Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan films), this revisionist oater unfolds in 1892 when the Indian wars are winding down and the frontier is giving way to civilization.

But not quite yet.

Capt. Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) rounds up renegade Indians. ┬áHis methods are matter-or-fact brutal. He nurses a slow-burning racial hatred fueled by the ugly deaths of comrades over the years and the atrocities he’s witnessed.

So he’s furious when for his last mission before retirement he’s ordered to accompany Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), a dying Cheyenne war chief, from a New Mexico prison to his tribe’s hunting grounds in Montana. No sooner does their little expedition get out of sight of the fort than Joe claps irons on the old man, less to prevent escape than to humiliate the cancer-riddled warrior.

Wes Studi

Joe is, of course, a direct descendant of Ethan Edwards, the Indian-hating antihero of John Ford’s great Western “The Searchers.” Both films are about a character on a moral and geographical journey.

The difference is that everyone in “Hostiles” is being eaten alive by hate or regret.

Joe’s second-in-command is Sergeant Metz (Rory Cochrane), who’s been diagnosed with “melancholia” but more accurately is being consumed by his conscience after decades of dogged persecution of Native Americans. ┬áThen there’s Corporal Woodsen (Jonathan Majors), a black buffalo soldier who found acceptance in the white man’s world by hunting down another minority.

A young lieutenant (Jesse Plemons) straight out of West Point is about to get a crash course in frontier justice. And then there’s the military convict being taken to another outpost for hanging after butchering a local family. An old colleague of Joe’s, the prisoner (Ben Foster, naturally) wonders why he’s going to swing when he’s seen Joe do worse.

Finally there’s Rosalie (Rosamund Pike), traumatized almost to insanity after witnessing her husband and children slaughtered by renegade Comanches in the brutal episode that opens the movie.

(more…)

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