Hostiles (Scott Cooper, 2017)

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Brian C
Joined: Wed Sep 16, 2009 11:58 am
Location: Chicago, IL

Hostiles (Scott Cooper, 2017)

#1 Post by Brian C » Tue Jan 23, 2018 2:04 am

What is probably a pretty decent script is all but ruined by ponderous art-movie direction. That kind of thing would work if Cooper had any sense of rhythm or grace in his camerawork and editing, but this just clunks along ploddingly, with every shot and every line of dialogue carrying the weight of the world, not to mention the heavy burden of history. I really wanted to like this, because like I say, the script seems to have been approached with some degree of thoughtfulness (although it kinda falls apart at the end), and of course the photography is very handsome and frankly it's just good to see a movie filmed on location in wide open spaces like this. It's pretty easy to see how a good director would have made something out of this, but on the basis of the two films I've seen from Cooper now (also Crazy Heart), he's definitely not that director.

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Big Ben
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Re: The Films of 2017

#2 Post by Big Ben » Sun Feb 11, 2018 8:03 pm

I enjoyed Hostiles a bit more than Brian did but he's correct about quite a few things. The films is gorgeous and Christian Bale is quite excellent. The problem for me is tone. It's quite clear that Cooper condemns Bale's character but I'm not quite sure if Cooper wanted him redeemed or simply developed into something more sympathetic. It's a lot like Blade Runner 2049 in the sense that it's really an art movie disguised as more mainstream fair. The only difference is that 2049 was at least sincere with character development and I think with some script revisions and some retractions of overt sentimentality it could have been a truly a far more interesting meditation on awful people. Don't get me wrong though I most certainly don't hate the film by any means and actually quite like it and would recommend it if you enjoy Revisionist Westerns and have a little over two hours to spare. Living where I do here the story struck a chord with me emotionally. Far, far too many Westerns ignore the Native American side of the story and it was really nice to see Cooper acknowledge that even if it was really uneven.

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DarkImbecile
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Re: The Films of 2017

#3 Post by DarkImbecile » Fri Mar 16, 2018 12:37 pm

Brian C wrote:Hostiles (Scott Cooper)

What is probably a pretty decent script is all but ruined by ponderous art-movie direction. That kind of thing would work if Cooper had any sense of rhythm or grace in his camerawork and editing, but this just clunks along ploddingly, with every shot and every line of dialogue carrying the weight of the world, not to mention the heavy burden of history. I really wanted to like this, because like I say, the script seems to have been approached with some degree of thoughtfulness (although it kinda falls apart at the end), and of course the photography is very handsome and frankly it's just good to see a movie filmed on location in wide open spaces like this. It's pretty easy to see how a good director would have made something out of this, but on the basis of the two films I've seen from Cooper now (also Crazy Heart), he's definitely not that director.
I think I'm a sucker for ponderous art-movie direction, because I had basically the same positive reaction to Hostiles as I did to the previous Cooper-Bale collaboration, Out of the Furnace, which shares a similarly (if not more) stacked cast, an unrelentingly grim and weighty tone, and an obsession with violence and masculinity as part of the American character. Cooper seems to love to wallow in pathos and inhumanity set against natural beauty - as you say, the location shooting on this is often stunning - and he and his regular cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi alternate between letting the actors and scenery speak for themselves with more understated shots and ramping up the camera movements (and Max Richter's score) in concert with the onscreen drama, as during the climactic moments of the final standoff. I can see where the "ponderous"/"weight of the world" complaints are coming from, but when it works for the material - as I think it does in Furnace and Hostiles, though I haven't seen Crazy Heart and acknowledge that Black Mass is substantially less successful - it's immersive rather than oppressive.

I think a huge part of that is the emotional and intense performances he manages to get out of his actors, particularly Bale (who I think should have been more of a contender during awards season), Rosamund Pike, and supporting players Rory Cochrane and Jonathan Majors. The scene in which
SpoilerShow
Bale says goodbye to a wounded Majors is one of the film's most powerful, and Bale is expertly able to non-verbally communicate so much about his character and the bond he has with his men. This scene is vital to the film, as it goes a long way to helping the audience understand - without excusing - his attitude toward Wes Studi's Native American chief earlier in the film, and is echoed in his final reconciliatory moments with Studi's Yellow Hawk.
The arc of Bale's character feels a little rushed as it is, but I think it could have felt entirely unearned if scenes likes these had been in the hands of a lesser actor.

I agree that Cooper's script is solid for the most part (and his explanation of how he got his hands on Oscar-winning Missing screenwriter Donald E. Stewart's manuscript that he adapted from is really interesting) though there's one moment in particular that is so crushingly on the nose that it undermines much of the rest of the work the film has done:
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When Rory Cochrane, who is fantastic in every other scene and nearly saves even this, offers Wes Studi's Native American chief tobacco and says that (paraphrasing but pretty close) "our crimes against the native peoples can never be forgiven." I really like this movie, but this one line is a quite the groaner, and having Cochrane make the offering without saying anything in that moment would've gotten the point across without rubbing the audience's face in it and making Cochrane's character articulate the sentiment in a way that feels anachronistic.


Cooper's script also investigates and undermines many genre conventions, and none more effectively than
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in the final shot of the film, when Bale forgoes the archetypal Western hero's isolation from family and civilization by not walking off into the sunset but stepping aboard a train to Chicago. That this moment seems to offer some relief and hope for his and Pike's characters after the previous two hours of wearying bleakness really works for the festival audience I saw it with, who applauded and cheered when it became clear what was happening.
I'd anticipate that I'll continue to be on the minority end of the debate around this one if more people here see it, but I'm hopeful that Cooper can continue to assemble the remarkably stacked casts and crews he has so far as he refines his style; his next is supposedly an adaptation of Hampton Sides' Hellhound on His Trail, which covers James Earl Ray in the run-up to and manhunt after the assassination of MLK.

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flyonthewall2983
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Re: Hostiles (Scott Cooper, 2017)

#4 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Mon Sep 10, 2018 9:49 pm

Out of the Furnace and Black Mass really didn't do a whole lot for me, but this was a vast improvement. As a meditation of loss and the damage death and war can cause, I was completely taken in. It underlies the more obvious messages of the mistreatment of Native Americans and racism overall, but it's present enough to be something that I find transcends those more historical routes into something personal.

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