Middleburg Film Review: ‘Hostiles’ Expertly Examines Brutality and Violence in America

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2017 MIDDLEBURG FILM FESTIVAL: To be frank,  Scott Cooper has had trouble connecting his material to this viewer over his past three films.  He wholeheartedly understands the acting process as he manages to dig out remarkable turns from his actors (i.e. Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart,” Casey Affleck in “Out of the Furnace”).  With each and every feature, Cooper looks to get closer to the “masterpiece” we all believe he has in him. In “Hostiles,” his darkly constructed western, he has made his best film yet.  And with a phenomenal turn from Oscar-winner Christian Bale and opulent camera work from master Masanobu Takanayagi, “Hostiles” cements itself as a landmark cinematic experience, not to be soon forgotten.

Hostiles” takes place in 1892, where a legendary Army Captain Joe Blocker (Bale) reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief (played by Wes Studi) and his family through dangerous territory. With Rosalie (played by Rosamund Pike), a woman who has recently experienced her own tragedy, and a team of loyal soldiers, Captain Blocker wrestles with the demons of his life, both inner and external.

Teaming up with writer/director Cooper for the second time, Christian Bale seems to tap into something exclusive only for this auteur.  He internalizes a rich amount of emotion that’s been building for decades, unleashing it to only a select few.  As Blocker comes to grips of the actions of his past, and what his life has meant, Bale explores those innervations, showcasing a tenderly felt portrayal.

Cooper assembles a terrific ensemble, all bringing something different to the story.  Most taken by newcomer Jonathan Majors and the impeccable Rory Cochrane, the two are standouts among a dynamic cast.  Rosamund Pike captures something very few actresses could have in a role that honestly should have been given more exploration beyond its initial introduction.

The frontiers and mountains of America are a journey and DP Masanobu Takanayagi makes look so easy.  Shot in chronological order, Takanayagi seems to find what the actors don’t even know they’re showing.  It’s his career best and will lead him to continue to climb the ranks of one of the most innovative cinematographers in the business.  Max Richter’s musical notes accompany the film with structure and beauty, only highlighting the film’s visuals.

The film is a difficult watch, brazing and brutal from moment one.  It will not be easy or even accessible to the most casual movie-goer.  It’s designed for a particular type of cinema lover, concluding that “Hostiles” may not be generally accepted by audiences.  It’s a vast and calculated look into the human condition and one that hits most of the runtime.

Hostiles” is a harshly eloquent piece that is well peppered into our less than enthusiastic film year.  For a cinephile, there’s plenty to chew on as it examines the nature of violence in all its American glory.  A true think piece.

“Hostiles” is screening at the Middleburg Film Festival, is distributed by Entertainment Studios, and opens in theaters on 2017.

GRADE: (★½)

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PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
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