Hostiles movie review

For inSing

HOSTILES

Director : Scott Cooper
Cast : Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Q’orianka Kilcher, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Jonathan Majors, Jesse Plemons, Timothée Chalamet
Genre : Adventure/Drama/Western
Run Time : 2h 14m
Opens : 4 January 2018
Rating : NC-16

Over years and years of westerns, it’s been ingrained in popular culture that ‘Cowboys = good, Indians = bad’. While there have been several films in the past that have attempted to redress this balance, there have been far from enough, and Native American history is often misinterpreted, glossed over or otherwise done a disservice in Hollywood movies. Hostiles is writer-director Scott Cooper’s take on this.

It is 1892, and Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), who is about to retire from the military, receives his final mission, by order of President Harrison. Blocker is to escort the elderly Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his homeland of Bear Valley, Montana. Also in the party are Yellow Hawk’s son Black Hawk (Adam Beach), Black Hawk’s wife Elk Woman (Q’orianka Kilcher) and the couple’s son. Many of Blocker’s men had died at Yellow Hawk’s hands, hence Blocker’s resistance in aiding Chief in any way.

Along the way, Blocker and his men encounter Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), a widow whose family was brutally murdered by Comanche warriors. Rosalie joins Blocker and company, but the road to Montana will not be a smooth one. Along the way, they must brave attacks from warring tribes, fend off avaricious fur trappers, and escort treacherous prisoner Philip Wills (Ben Foster) north. Blocker must try to forgive, or at least tolerate, a man whom he has spent much of his life hating, as each learns to see the other’s point of view.

Hostiles is based on an unproduced manuscript by the late screenwriter Donald E. Stewart, which Cooper has adapted for the screen. This is a downbeat, uncompromisingly brutal film. Given the subject matter, it should be a degree of grave, but Hostiles just wears the audience down, never providing even the briefest moment of levity. One gets the impression that the film functions more as a political statement than as a story. Its heart is in the right place, but there is still considerable nuance left unmined, the result being occasionally clumsy.

The characters are fleshed out reasonably well and are given dialogue that is never painfully on-the-nose. They are all weighed down by something or another, and while there are moments that approach poignancy, Hostiles often feels more like a slog than an involving, powerful drama.

Christian Bale has repeatedly proven over his career that he’s a dab hand at playing the tortured hero. Blocker is someone whose hatred of Native Americans is deep-seated and intertwined with painful events from his past. We see that despite how Blocker has hardened his heart, he is still capable of great empathy and compassion, which he directs towards Rosalie. This is an expectedly intense performance from a famously intense actor, but the character’s arc is all too predictable.

Pike’s portrayal of a woman who has barely survived an unthinkable trauma and is now at her breaking point is heart-rending and wince-inducing in the right ways. It can be argued that Rosalie has the most compelling personal arc in the film, and it’s a role that Pike bites into. However, we know it won’t be long before the film suggests (at the very least) a romance between Rosalie and Blocker, with this relationship becoming the film’s emotional centre.

While Studi lends a quiet, stern authority to the Yellow Hawk role, the film does not give him equal power to Blocker in deciding the direction of the narrative. The Comanche are depicted as villains, with the Cheyenne as the film’s heroes. The film ostensibly wants to undo the old dichotomy of heroic cowboys and villainous Indians, but still needs ‘savages’ for audiences to root against. Kilcher spends most of the film silent and with her head bowed, and the film would have benefitted from giving the Native American characters more agency in the narrative.

The supporting roles are all inhabited with sufficient authenticity, but as with many films of this type, Hostiles struggles to make Blocker’s men seem distinct. Rory Cochrane conveys a distant hauntedness, Blocker shares a sincere, tearful moment with his right-hand man Cpl. Henry Woodson (Jonathan Majors), and Ben Foster gets to play quite the scoundrel, but the motley crew isn’t sufficiently memorable.

Even as it unfolds against sweeping landscapes and features actors giving the material their best, Hostiles feels considerably longer than its 135 minutes. While it’s clear that the film is made with noble intentions, its still encumbered by certain trappings of the Western genre, and doesn’t the deliver the depth which it promises.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Gone Girl

For F*** Magazine

GONE GIRL

Director : David Fincher
Cast : Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Casey Wilson, Missi Pyle, Sela Ward, Emily Ratajkowski
Genre : Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Opens : 9 October 2014
Rating : R21 (Sexual Scenes)
Run time: 149 mins
At various points in the 90s, audiences have heard a frustrated Harrison Ford emphatically declare “I did not kill my wife!” Now, we get to hear Ben Affleck say it. Affleck plays Nick Dunne, an unhappily married former journalist who runs a bar with his twin sister Margo (Coon). It is the fifth anniversary of Nick’s marriage to Amy (Pike), the basis for her author parents’ popular children’s book character “Amazing Amy”. That morning, Amy vanishes. A media frenzy envelops Nick’s hometown of North Carthage, Missouri; cable TV host Ellen Abbott (Pyle) insinuating on her show that Nick is guilty. Leading the investigation, Detective Rhonda Boney (Dickens) begins to doubt Nick’s innocence as well. Of course, not all is as it seems, with Amy’s ex-boyfriend Desi (Harris) drawn into the fray. Nick has to rely on superstar lawyer Tanner Bolt (Perry) as more and more of the public turn against him, demanding to know what exactly happened to “Amazing Amy”.


            Adapted from the best-selling Gillian Flynn novel, the most superficial of glances might lead one to think Gone Girl is just another whodunit. Wife disappears, husband is the prime suspect, there’s probably a twist or two. Gone Girl is so much more than that, ending up as a wickedly subversive deconstruction of your average Lifetime Channel movie of the week while skewering mass media sensationalism. Working from a screenplay written by Flynn herself, director David Fincher is still at the top of his game, his signature technical acumen and incredible instincts as a filmmaker on full display here. The tonal balance Flynn has achieved in the story is stunning – one wouldn’t expect a murder mystery thriller to be this funny. The humour is dry and scathing and never undercuts the intensity and the suspense, both of which Gone Girl has in spades. The first half of the story alternates between the unfolding events surrounding Amy’s disappearance and flashbacks detailing Nick and Amy’s relationship, told in the form of Amy’s journal entries. Some screenwriting guru somewhere once said “never use voiceovers” – Rosamund Pike’s voiceovers framing said journal entries are pitch-perfect in how they’re written and delivered.

    
        When the film was in production, much was made about how the book’s ending had been altered. That infamous ending has remained unchanged. If you haven’t read the book yet, go into this movie blind, then pick up the book. The gut-punch developments in the story are, to borrow a cliché, a roller coaster ride. There’s a difference between a film making the audience feel like they’ve gone on a crazy ride and a film making an audience feel like they’ve been played like chumps – there will be viewers who think Gone Girl falls into the latter category but this reviewer was thoroughly entertained. This is the kind of movie you want to see twice in theatres, the second time to pay attention to how your fellow moviegoers react. There will be gasps; there will be howling. This is the rare thriller where the twists not only hold up upon inspection in hindsight, they actually seem even stronger than they did the first time round, events turning operatic and heightened without becoming laughable.


            Ben Affleck was nominated for “Worst Actor of the Decade” at the Razzies. He’s not the worst actor of the decade – or at least, he isn’t anymore. His Nick Dunne is in over his head, he’s not brilliant but he’s not a total idiot either. The audience has to root for Nick at some points and doubt him doubt him at others; Affleck playing those different colours well enough. He also gamely takes jokes about his chin. Rosamund Pike does completely steal the show from him though – in your run of the mill whodunit, the “missing/dead?” wife wouldn’t be playing too big of an active role in the story – but this is not your run of the mill whodunit. The contrast between the wistfully romantic flashbacks (there’s a scene in which Nick and Amy kiss in a “sugar storm” outside a bakery) and the suspenseful, dramatic investigation is effectively jarring as performed by Pike. Amy is not just another “missing white woman”; Pike creating a memorable character in a genre where “the wife” is often, well, “the wife”.


            Affleck and Pike are backed by an excellent supporting cast. The familial bond between Nick and his twin sister Margo is believable and moving thanks to Carrie Coon’s strong turn as the pillar in Nick’s life following his wife’s disappearance. Kim Dickens is the “no-nonsense tough cop” without playing up the stereotypes associated with those character types. Missi Pyle’s sneering daytime TV show host, hurling allegations which the public swallows wholesale, provides biting comic relief. Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry actually don’t play that big a part in the proceedings until around the halfway mark. It might be distracting to some, but the urge to go “hey Barney Stinson/Doogie Howser” or “hey Madea” does quickly die down. This reviewer was honestly worried about that, with Perry in particular, but Perry is sufficiently credible as the affable, astute Tanner Bolt.

            As with just about all of David Fincher’s films, the atmospherics click right into place. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver an ominous score that rears its head at just the right moments and this marks yet another visually-arresting partnership between Fincher and his regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth. Editor Kirk Baxter also includes some interesting flourishes, such as a scene which cuts from Nick and Amy about to kiss in a flashback to Nick getting his cheek swabbed at the police station. The ending will probably be infuriating for many viewers, but we think it’s far from the cop-out it could’ve been. After all, some of the best stories have pretty “infuriating” endings.

Summary: Gone Girlwill pull you in, spin you around and leave you completely hypnotized. With Gillian Flynn’s razor-sharp screenplay and some terrific performances, Fincher has yet another winner on his hands.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong