The trailers for Oscar-winning director Scott Cooper’s new western-drama, Hostiles, makes a point of showcasing Masanobu Takayanagi’s stunning cinematography. Reactions to the film in general, however, have left some scratching their heads. Written and directed by Cooper from a manuscript by the late Donald E. Stewart, whose wife happened upon it in 2012, Hostiles follows US Army Captain Joseph Blockler as he escorts a Cheyenne war chief and his family home to their tribal lands in Montana from Fort Berringer, New Mexico in 1892. Blocker is portrayed by Oscar-winner Christian Bale in his third outing with Cooper, and is supported onscreen by Rosamund Pike, Rory Cochrane, Jonathan Majors, Adam Beach, David Midthunder, and Wes Studi as Chief Yellow Hawk. While Pike’s performance is certainly impressing critics, others claim the film inappropriately boasts its own brilliance.
Hostiles has been described by some as a “progressive western.” In other words, it attempts to portray a modern-day progressive mindset among white settlers in the American West in the late 19th century; an American West that featured a more amicable relationship between the settlers and the Native Americans than what’s generally accepted as historically accurate. While the emotional climax of the film centers around Blocker’s own prejudices as he is forced to endure the company of his fiercest enemy, a Cheyenne Indian chief, in order to collect his retirement, the accuracy of this moral dilemma seems a bit desperate to make a statement about race relations in our modern times. Some have also pointed out historically-relevant errors displayed in the film, such as the fact that the Cheyenne and the Comanche would not have been warring with each other, or with American westerners in 1892.
Historical accuracy aside, Cooper’s film does pose an interesting question for modern filmmaking. Some would probably see it as inappropriate to make a “classic” western film centered around cowboys hunting “red-skinned” Indians (who would most likely be portrayed in some sort of savage fashion) in this day and age. Given the state of issues like race and immigration in the age of Trump, is Cooper’s take on the West more appropriate for modern audiences? And is it appropriate to portray the West in such a progressive fashion that is otherwise contradictory to how it actually played out? Personally I’m not one to advocate for erasing or altering history as it happened, but that’s a dilemma you’ll have to come to terms with yourself. Irregardless, Westerns are usually pretty entertaining, critics don’t know shit, and Cooper and Bale have a pretty solid track record (Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart), so it’s probably worth your time and money to see this one in theaters. Enjoy!