A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hostiles is a mature, violent Western starring Christian Bale. It's very violent; incidents include children being murdered and the aftermath of a gang rape. The violence doesn't have the emotional impact of, say, a Scorsese film, the shock value of something by Tarantino, or the gory specificity of Eli Roth, but there is a lot of it. There's also some drinking and smoking and plenty of harsh language, from "damn" and "bitch" to "f--k" and cruel racial terms. Still, the movie's ultimate message is to look beyond filters of prejudice to see individuals' worth.
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What's the story?
In HOSTILES, legendary Army Captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale), headed for retirement, is assigned to take his hated foe -- long-incarcerated Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) -- and his family to their homeland so that the chief can die there. Along the way, they pick up female homesteader Rosalie (Rosamund Pike), who survived her family's murder at the hands of members of another Native American tribe. The group must travel a long way, through territory marked with many kinds of hostiles, to reach their destination.
Is it any good?
This otherwise typically macho, violent Western offers strong performances and occasionally good dialogue; its most interesting aspect is how it depicts PTSD on the frontier. Because Hostiles was made in 2017, not 1957, you might guess even before the movie starts that the title applies to, essentially, every character in the film. And you'd be right. There's a whole lot of hate to go around, an endless stream of vengeance and frontier derangement that either robs people of their humanity or untethers them from the social conventions that gave them any appearance of civility. This Old West road movie takes characters with dyed-in-the-wool reasons to hate "the other" and, by subjecting them to the same traumatic journey together, peels away their differences. As you'd expect. The violence is at once unnecessary and not enough; there's quite a lot of it -- and quite a variety of it -- but it lacks the emotional impact that would have made it a key component to the film's apparent good intentions. But the acting is strong throughout, with Pike delivering some raw moments, Studi and Adam Beach (as his son) solid, and character actors like Bill Camp, Ben Foster, and Peter Mullan good in small roles and cameos.
The most original thing about Hostiles is its rare depiction of PTSD in the Old West. Tommy Lee Jones' underrated The Homesman handled the topic with sensitivity and power. Here, Bale and his lieutenant (Rory Cochrane) play soldiers who've been at it too long, seen too much, and done too many things they can't really justify. When one confesses he's got "the melancholia," it's dismissed out of hand -- just as the idea that war and a life of violence can cause injuries that can't be seen wasn't widely accepted until fairly recently. As Blocker, Yellow Hawk, and Rosalie share dangers and develop trust, the film's theme of how a traumatic existence can change people -- and yet the good in them might still prevail -- becomes clear. There's nothing revelatory about Hostiles, and it's not exactly a thriller, but the acting and the look at PTSD all but justify the violence and sometimes heavy-handed direction.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the media's depiction of Native Americans has evolved over the decades. Hostiles' first-introduced Native American characters are along the lines of how Hollywood portrayed them for many years, while later characters are different. How? Why? What message does that send?
Had you ever seen a Western deal with what we now call posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? How does this one tackle the topic?
What do Westerns tend to have in common? Is this one consistent with others you've seen?
- In theaters: December 22, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: April 24, 2018
- Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Timothée Chalamet, Ben Foster, Wes Studi
- Director: Scott Cooper
- Studio: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Western
- Run time: 133 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence, and language
- Last updated: July 16, 2020
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