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HOSTILES
4K Ultra HD Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster
Director: Scott Cooper
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Lionsgate
Features: See Review
Length: 134 Minutes
Release Date: April 24, 2018

When we lay our heads down here, we’re all prisoners.”

Film ***1/2

Writer/director Scott Cooper has become one of my new favorite contemporary filmmakers. Formerly an actor, he made an effective enough directorial debut in 2009 with Crazy Heart. But it’s been his work since that debut that has impressed me even more so, which consisted of the criminally underseen Out of the Furnace and the real life gangster drama Black Mass, which featured Johnny Depp’s best work in what feels like forever.

Now he’s crafted what I find to be his best effort yet with Hostiles, which earns its place alongside Unforgiven as one of the most brooding and bleakest films to ever surface in the western genre. Interestingly enough, it makes for a unusual companion piece to Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, in that both are hitting Blu-ray on the same day and are non-traditional westerns involving Native Americans as central figures in their stories (as well as lead characters who end up taking a personal journey of sorts). Although it’s safe to say that Cooper’s film is the far more realistic of the two.

The story, which Cooper adapted from a manuscript by the late Donald E. Stewart, opens in New Mexico in the year 1892. Veteran army captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) has been given orders to escort a recently pardoned (and cancer stricken) Cheyenne war chief named Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to his homeland in Montana, with his family in tow. Blocker wants no part of the assignment, as he sees Native Americans as nothing but pure enemies and has lost a number of men to members of Yellow Hawk’s tribe. But the orders have come directly from the President, so he has no choice in the matter.

So Blocker reluctantly saddles up to guide Yellow Hawk back to his home turf, but not without warning him that he will put the war chief down in a heartbeat if he tries any tricks. Along the way, Blocker and his men come across a woman named Rosalee (Rosamund Pike) who, at the beginning of the film, witnessed a Comanche army slaughter her husband and three children. The army captain takes in the broken woman and promises to take her to safety.

The film uses its western platform to tell a powerful meditation on the importance of forgiveness and the accepting of other cultures in a rare, subtle manner. This is very well conveyed in Christian Bale’s strong and quietly nuanced performance, which brings a great deal of believability to the character arc of a man known for his violent natured towards his supposed “enemy” coming around to a level of acceptance. The same is true of Rosamund Pike, who you’d might expect to be portrayed as relentlessly hateful towards this other race of people after losing her family, but the film is surprising and wise to not go that route with her character.

If there are any sidesteps in the film, and they are minors one, it’s with the introduction of an army prisoner (Ben Foster) about midway through the film. It’s a tremendous performance on Foster’s part, naturally, but the inclusion of his character seem to take focus away from the central storyline. And the film has something of a last minute final standoff between Blocker and a group of men that feel like they should have entered the story much earlier.

Hostiles is without question a beautifully made film. Cooper shot it all on film and works with the gifted cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (who had previously shot both Out of the Furnace and Black Mass) to offer a breathtaking landscape of the western landscape. That combined with the superb acting, the powerful story and an unyielding brooding feel throughout the film give this piece a purely potent feel. Scott Cooper clearly set out to make a western that would stand on its own, which this film certainly does.

Video ****

Lionsgate has delivered a 4K Ultra HD release that is nothing short of fantastic in the video department. I mentioned the grand cinematography displayed here, and that element is delivered in a mesmerizing, knockout quality here. The endless shots of the western landscape will astound your visual senses, including a skyline shot featuring red clouds near the end of the film which took my breath away. Pretty much the whole movie takes is placed in outdoor settings, with both daytime and nighttime scenes receiving equal doses of immense attention. An amazing job all around!

Audio ****

The DTS HD mix does a tremendous job of helping to encompass the viewer in this western setting. The gun battles are the effective standout, as expected. The presentation also gets high marks for its delivery of not just the dialogue, but the stirring and low key music score courtesy of Max Richter, which adds a great deal to the tone of the film. A most marvelous job.

Features **1/2

There’s essentially one feature on this Lionsgate release, and it can be accessed on both the 4K disc as well as the standard Blu-ray (something I always applaud the studio for doing), and that is an hour long documentary titled “Journey of the Soul: The Making of Hostiles”, which is divided into three parts and covers a great deal of ground from the acting to the story to every detail needed to help recreate the period. Very informative all the way!

Summary:

Hostiles is an uncompromisingly grim and brutally effective piece of western filmmaking from it’s opening frame all the way up to a downright perfect final shot. Scott Cooper continues his streak of crafting dark and violent tales with his most triumphant effort to date. The 4K release from Lionsgate is an absolute must have for those with the very access!

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