Saturday, January 27, 2018

HOSTILES (2017): An Art-Film Western

(No SPOILERS if you see a lot of movies.)

I was strongly moved several times during Scott Cooper's HOSTILES's 134 minutes, but more often impressed with the artistry of the composition and cutting ("montage"), with Christian Bale's accent and tone-perfect delivery — and with his ability to pop a head-vein, so to speak, on cue; with the thematically-appropriate costuming and hair styling; and with the nuanced handling of classic narrative premises and tropes of The Largely-Lethal Journey ("Red-Shirts" + "Pvt. Deadmeat") and Family Destruction and Re-Construction.
On the other hand, it was the first time I'd seen the movie, and I was still spending a lot of my time thinking like the cinema critic for an arty little magazine use editor liked words like "filmic."
According to the 1960 or so textbook based on the official US Army history of the US Army, the "Indian Wars" leading up to the 1892 setting for HOSTILES were the "nadir" — that's where I learned the word — of US military history; and the full-bird/bull-goose Colonel who taught the course thought our text soft on George Armstrong Custer and the Army's war crimes (the term he used) generally. But I wouldn't have taken a course in US military history if not forced the first time — I took it again to avoid Map Reading (which I really, really, *really* should have taken) — and most Americans "ain't gonna study war" in an academic sense. So HOSTILES does useful political work in showing this side of the US cavalry's coming to the ethnic cleansing, and at the same time not sentimentalizing the First Peoples here, and taking a nasty swipe at those who do. 
As Peter Debruge points out in VARIETY, the Indians in the film remain abstract and in service to the story. But the same abstraction holds with most of the Whites when moved around for impressive shot-composition.
So: I'll recommend HOSTILES and hope it makes money. It's still politically useful — given the low level of White awareness of the gory details of "the Conquest of the West" — and it is beautifully made. Perhaps too beautiful over too many minutes.

No comments:

Post a Comment