Christian Bale is the rare actor who can say more with his eyes than many others can with a dozen for-your-consideration monologues, and his work in Scott Cooper’s brutal and beautiful new Western, Hostiles, ranks among his most impressive. Cooper, the director of Crazy Heart, collaborated with Bale once before, on 2013’s little-seen Out of the Furnace — a harrowing, death-trip thriller that was one of the year’s best movies. Here, the two are working in a similar key, but there are moments of grace to be found, too.
Bale plays Capt. Joe Blocker, a haunted soldier in the untamed West in 1892. He’s a career officer famous for his ruthless cruelty and bloody subjugation of Native Americans. He, of all people, is assigned to take an ailing, imprisoned chief (Wes Studi) back to Montana to die on his tribal soil. With a small group of soldiers, Blocker leads the chief and his family across the plains through deadly encounters, picking up a lone woman (Rosamund Pike) after her husband and children have been massacred. Pike, who was so great being bad in Gone Girl, makes good on that promise here with a ferocious performance that’s both heartbreaking and excruciating to witness.
Shot in New Mexico and Colorado, Hostiles is visually stunning. And its themes of blind hatred and eventual understanding between the races is reminiscent of Dances With Wolves, minus the preachiness. Still, the biggest draw is watching Bale deliver another master class in invisible acting. Every gesture feels authentic. You immediately understand this spiritually spent man — for better and worse. Westerns can be a tough nut to crack, but Hostiles may be the finest example of the genre since Unforgiven. A