Westerns are far rarer today and their presence in our overall culture isn’t as apparent as it once was. However, every once in a while, a really good western comes out. For 2017 that was Hostiles, a fresh western directed by Scott Cooper. This movie has quite a lot in it. From great production quality to an enticing story. Let’s see what exactly makes it so engaging.
The story of Hostiles takes place in the old times of the wild west. The sets are designed perfectly for one such experience, bringing over the wilderness and sparingly urban areas alike through decent amount of effort put into the movie.
With a proper backdrop like this, the story of the movie can take on a more immersive quality. It’s threads going over multiple interesting locales. Whether it’s a simple field or a lush forest, the effort has been put in to appropriately depict the place.
The key part of the movie is its story. With quite a few characters to boot, Hostiles goes quite deep with its plot. The framing is pretty simple, escort a chieftain to a reservation, but the elaborate nature of the clashing characters provides ample details to chew on.
The plot drags every character through the hostile wilderness of the west. Leaving them very little time to rest or relax. Yet, in the evenings, all characters will find themselves close to each other. Free to explore their opinions on each other and the overall situation they are in. The most impacted is our main character who comes into the story with a prejudiced stance towards the people he escorts. Throughout the trip, he begins to comprehend the fault of his ways.
The main character finds himself introspectively looking at his whole life by the end of it. Coming out of the whole ordeal a changed man. Despite the actual plot concerning a dangerous travel between two locations, the true story is of one man’s journey as a person.
The acting is superb, which is not that surprising considering the cast. The main character, Captain Joseph J. Blocker, being played by Christian Bale himself. Bale doesn’t slack off with this role, giving it his all with subtle and overt performances alike.
Of course, he is not the only one contributing to this quality. Wes Studi, Chief Yellow Hawk, and Rosamund Pike, Rosalee Quaid, help form a firm emotional core for the whole movie. Their roles directly affect the main character quite a bit throughout this journey.
Smaller roles are given the same standards of acting, with each actor delivering an engaging performance. Some have less to do than others but put their heart into even the smallest of scenes. The quality of acting is also impacted by the director. Scott Cooper Florida director who has had multiple other successes before Hostiles, strikes once again with his directorial skills
Hostiles is a movie with very good technical aspects. You’ll note that each part of this movie is beautifully shot, provided with a few scenes of nice camera work. The sheer scope of the scenes can often be enough to engage us, providing breathtaking wilderness as a potent way to enhance the mood of the film.
As expected, sound design doesn’t suffer either. It is a well put together tapestry of sounds which enhances each scene. The consistency of sound quality is important, if not mandatory, to tell a story such as this. Each sound effect goes further into immersing the viewer into the world of hostiles. One we know well from hundreds of stories told in this time frame, now put in a different light.
Good sound effects and mixing is important but what truly makes important movie moments peak are some perfectly composed songs. Unsurprisingly, Hostiles pulls a whole original soundtrack for its length.
The style of music varies, utilizing many elements of regular country music while bringing in orchestra and choir in some of the more somber pieces. Throughout the whole soundtrack, you can feel the sheer skill and quality of the composer, Max Richter. Max Richter has not only understood the assignment when making the soundtrack, he went even further beyond.
It’s the addition of this fantastic score that unmistakably elevates the movie further. With the slew of emotionally significant moments within the movie, ample musical coverage works well. However, there’s still restraint in the use of music, with the movie letting it phase in and out when necessary or required.
So, what makes Hostiles so good?
As noted before, the movie talks about one man’s change of heart. This is a very enticing story detail which gives every interaction in the movie quite a bit of extra depth. There are moments where you can visibly see that characters are proven wrong in their mindset, yet continue to stand their ground on a subject.
It reflects the reality very well, where people will often neglect the facts of the matter when it contradicts their preconceived notions. In these situations, the characters still take something away from the conversation even if it may not be apparent.
These moments stack on top of each other, building a consistent string of events to follow. Eventually, these events culminate in the aforementioned change. It’s gradual, of course, with certain changes in behavior dropping in unnoticeably. By the end of it, these moments are very overt though, capitalizing on the setup the whole movie has been building.
Hostiles is a movie with a lot of great scenery to show, perfect performances to engage with, and music to support the key story. When the weight of the story hits you, the impact is hard to shake off. Hostiles is a type of movie that doesn’t directly give you prompts to think about but does invoke introspection. Although it could have been a simple story of a dangerous wilderness, the writers chose to make it something quite special for everybody involved.