[Review] Hostiles: The return of the (very) Great West


Since 2009, Scott Cooper has been filming the disparities that mark contemporary America. With Hostiles, he tries to probe the violence inherent in his people. And take the opportunity to sign his best film.

Scott Cooper’s filmography follows a common thread, and attempts to capture a fascinating part of the American soul. From Crazy Heart to Strictly Criminal , including Les Brasiers de la Anger , the director persists in filming white and poor populations, as if to dispel any fantasy about them. Without glorifying anyone, he sketches a realistic portrait of a wild country marked by its violent history.

It is therefore not surprising that he is now making a western, which remains the cinematographic genre most closely linked to the North American continent and to the questions that obsess him. If his thinking could seem incomplete, even floating in his previous films, Hostiles cuts to the quick from its preamble.

“The American soul is hard, lonely, stoic: it is a killer. It has not yet been diluted. The opening scene, which features a massacre, does not take long to remind us of this.

As the United States prepares to enter the 20th century, certain groups of Indians continue to fight, even attacking civilians very harshly. U.S. Army legend, Unionist Captain Joseph Blocker is tasked with escorting Yellow Hawk, a dying Cheyenne warlord, to his homeland. Reluctantly accepting this journey between New Mexico and Montana, he is chased by a small group of hostile Comanches. To survive, the procession will have to learn to fight together.

Like a valve to the infighting unfolding before us, Cooper films a majestic and silent nature. His close relationship with Masanobu Takayanagi, the director of photography who worked on his two previous films, explodes on the screen.

Peeping over the paintings of Frederic Remington, the landscapes are immense and the image contrasting. The opportunity to see the diversity offered by the states crossed. We thus pass from the dazzling light of the desert regions of the South to the twilight of the mountains of the North. The clash of the elements directly echoes that of men.

If he does not avoid a few scenes inherent in the genre, Hostiles stands out for the delicacy of his writing and the accuracy of the interpretation. For once, Christian Bale becomes one with his character.

This sullen man, who has every reason to hate Indians, gradually realizes the absurdity of the war he has waged. He who has made an African-American his most faithful lieutenant is just beginning to understand that the land he treads is not necessarily his. Cooper also lets glimpse the signs of a deep post-traumatic stress, fertile ground for many directors before him.

This terrible paradox runs through each of the figures in the film. We think of course of Wes Studi, impeccable as a taciturn Indian forced to fight against other tribes or Ben Foster, erected as the ultimate monster for crimes that many other soldiers have also committed. The figure of this old demon of white America would have deserved some additional tirades.

Only Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) seems to counter the prevailing hatred, realizing very early on that her family’s killers are not the ones she frequents. This does not prevent her, either, from indulging in cathartic violence, as recalled by her relentlessness to shoot one of the corpses.

The precision with which the director dissects the mechanics of violence makes Hostiles his most accomplished work. We find here and there signatures of his academicism, especially in his desire to absolutely close the story, but the feature film stands out thanks to a real bias. Behind the garb of a classic western, the film weaves America’s eternal history and leaves one question unanswered: who will be the enemy of tomorrow?