Retribution and regret are saddle-sore travelling companions in writer-director Scott Cooper’s gritty western, set during the final years of the bloodthirsty war between the United States Army and Native Americans.
Adapted from an unproduced manuscript by screenwriter Donald E Stewart, Hostiles cocks its pistol towards political correctness by apportioning blame for the slaughter to both sides of the conflict.
As one white soldier in the film confesses: “We’re all guilty of something.”
Cooper’s script isn’t inclined to rigorously debate moral ambiguities and characters sometimes enforce racial and tribal stereotypes for the sake of dramatic expediency.
However, boundaries between conventional heroes and villains are intriguingly blurred, and justice is seldom granted to battle-scarred characters as they endure “the Lord’s rough ways”.
Christian Bale delivers a blistering performance as a world-weary army captain, whose humanity is revitalised by an unexpected encounter with the sole survivor of a Comanche attack. Played to the emotionally raw hilt by Rosamund Pike, this grief-numbed widow is both a victim and an angel of compassion and mercy, who finds courage in the most devastating circumstances. The on-screen pairing of the two British actors elevates Cooper’s film.