Rated R, 135 minutes
The brutal, well-acted Western "Hostiles" is a powerful, often shameful reminder of a low point in U.S. history when Native Americans were not treated well. From director and writer Scott Cooper ("Crazy Heart," "Black Mass"), it's a little too long and occasionally too pensive, but it still gives plenty to chew on.
Embittered U.S. Cavalry officer Joseph Blocker (Oscar-winner Christian Bale) reluctantly agrees to accompany a Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (the excellent Wes Studi) and his family back to their tribal lands in Montana.
The violent, thought-provoking Western "Hostiles" is a solid entry in a genre that isn't seen as much these days. Directed and written by Cooper, Bale is doing some of his best work in years; he's spot on and touching as the resentful, hardened officer whose last assignment is also his most dangerous. On that note, "Hostiles" isn't always an easy watch, and the film's first few minutes are its most tense and unnerving as a family is brutally brought down by some wild Comanches.
Shot on location in Santa Fe, it's handsomely filmed by Masanobu Takayanagi ("Silver Lingins Playbook"), with the wild west landscape an important supporting player. "Hostiles" features a solid cast, most memorable include Rosamund Pike ("Gone Girl") as a lone survivor of a brutal attack on her family; "Argo's" Rory Cochrane as a war-weary solider part of Blocker's team, and the superb but underused Studi as the Cheyenne war chief who wants to die in peace in his homeland. And yes, that's "Call Me by Your Name's" Timothee Chalamet in a very small role as another of Blocker's team.
"Hostiles" is about 15 minutes too long, suffering from a few narrative flaws, including an uneven second act when a squirrelly AWOL soldier (played by the always squirrelly, unpredictable Ben Foster) shows up, causing more issues for the team, which has already been plagued by Comanches and fur traders, and it's seemingly redundant and unnecessary. Instead, Cooper could've spent a little more time with the Native American characters, especially Studi's, given how underdeveloped they are compared to the rest of the cast.
Along the way, Cooper makes some compelling statements about the treatment of Native Americans, not to mention faith, death and war. Its tense, final shootout is also its most heartbreaking, but he also manages a slightly more hopeful ending. As a native American myself (25% Cherokee Indian from my mother), I'm thankful that the entertaining "Hostiles" sheds a little more light into a dark period in the history of the U.S.