Hostiles: A Relevant Social Commentary Plagued by its Release Date


Michael Khuraibet, Digital Editor-in-Chief

Typically, movies are given a theatrical release in January because they’re Oscar-nominated or they’re not expected to make much money.

Scott Cooper’s Hostiles is neither. It hasn’t received any real awards recognition, nor is it failing with audiences, with an opening weekend gross of $10.2 million, and a 72% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Nonetheless, with attention focused on Academy darlings such as The Shape of Water, and box-office hits like Maze Runner: The Death Cure, Hostiles is a cinematically enchanting period-piece whose unfortunate release date will prevent it from ever reaching the audience it deserves.

Hostiles is an American western film set in 1892. Christian Bale plays Capt. Joseph Blocker, whose final task before retirement is escorting an Apache chief and his family from the Army’s fort in New Mexico to their native Montana. As the motley crew assigned to the escort makes its way, they encounter Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), whose family was murdered by a Comanche war party. As they make their sojourn, the characters are given a new perspective when they’re forced to fight on the same side of a war, after being enemies for so long.

From early on, Bale’s performance as the prejudiced Army captain is mesmerizing. In the scene where he’s given his assignment, Blocker explains to his commanding officer his service record, which makes his hatred for Native Americans feel almost justified. By the same token, Pike’s performance is heart-wrenching, as someone whose only prejudice is driven by fear and mourning.

As the film progresses, it’s easy to connect those attitudes to current racial tensions in the United States. There are many instances where experience or fear is used to justify prejudice. Over time, however, the characters preconceptions start to shift as their point of view towards the targeted group changes.

What makes the film so enthralling, apart from stellar performances, is the cinematography and editing. While the average moviegoer may pay no mind to how a film is shot, Hostiles demands it, and director Cooper wants the audience to know it. The film has many visual scenes, absent of dialogue, allowing the audience to interpret the preceding scene, and feel the characters’ visceral emotions.

Hostiles plays more like a visual novel rather than a movie, attested to by its receiving the award for Best Cinematography at the Capri, Hollywood International Film Festival — its only major award.

When I attended the screening of Hostiles on opening night, there were two people in my theater. Judging by box-office figures according to BoxOfficeMojo, most people were flocking to see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which has been one of the top-grossing films since its release on December 20.