HOSTILES

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by James Quinn, The Burning Platform:

I don’t like going to the movies. Too much hassle, too many commercials and previews, too expensive, and 90% of the movies are worthless drivel, SJW inspired crap, or government buoyed propaganda. Last weekend was my wife’s birthday and she wanted to see a movie. When she shockingly suggested a western, I reluctantly agreed. So my wife and one of my sons got in the car and headed to an old Franks theater in Montgomeryville that only charges $8.50. I had seen a brief review of Hostiles on-line and saw it got a decent rating on rotten tomatoes. I was looking forward to being mildly entertained.

The next two hours and fifteen minutes of this dark, somber, violent, morally ambiguous treatise about the old west cannot be described as enjoyable. But I did find it riveting and thought provoking. Christian Bale, as Captain Joseph Blocker, mournfully carries out his duties without a single smile crossing his bearded countenance for the entire movie. The tone, atmosphere and message of this film reminded me of my favorite western and subject of the final part of my five part series based on Clint Eastwood movies – Unforgiven. One of the soldiers in Hostiles even has dialogue almost matching Will Munny’s foreboding exchange at the end of Unforgiven:

“That’s right. I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.”

It was clear to me Scott Cooper, the director, was paying tribute to Eastwood and his Academy Award winning revisionist western classic, with his dark cinematography, introspective atmosphere, and themes of good, evil, heroism, aging, duty and courage. Movies in this age of shallowness, disinformation, and fake news rarely broach subjects like the treatment of Native Americans in the 1800s.

The usual superficial Hollywood treatment paints a black and white picture of good and evil; right and wrong; good guys and bad guys, when the true picture is a swirling surreal portrait of opacity and moral relativism. The reason Unforgiven is considered a classic is its honest portrayal of the brutality, murder, reputation, heroes, villains, and the blurred line between good and evil.

Hostiles tells the story of Captain Joseph Blocker who is on the verge of retirement after decades of fighting Indians, with a reputation as the most relentless, brutal and unforgiving Indian fighter in the U.S. Cavalry. By order of the president he is tasked with returning a paroled and dying of cancer Cheyenne Chief – Yellow Hawk – to his home Valley of the Bears in Montana so he can be buried in his birthplace. He initially refuses the assignment because of his blind hatred of all Indians and specifically Yellow Hawk.

During his decades of fighting Indians, he found Yellow Hawk to be his equal in murderous brutality and disdain for his enemies. He personally slaughtered four of Blocker’s closest friends. His colonel threatens him with court martial and the loss of his government pension if he does not carry out his orders. Always the good soldier, he obeys and leads his hand-picked men as they begin their mission.

Shortly after undertaking their mission they come across a burnt out homestead where a Comanche renegade war party had killed and scalped the patriarch, shot and killed his three children and left a shattered wife who had hidden in the woods to escape slaughter. The stoic, gruff, hard hearted Blocker makes the executive decision to escort this broken woman to safety, the soldier displaying a degree of compassion that almost renders him unrecognizable.

The dangerous journey to Montana becomes a metaphor for Blocker’s passage from blind hatred to trust, understanding and retrieval of his humanity. After a lifetime of barbarity and animosity, killing without remorse because he didn’t see his enemy as human, Blocker gradually gains perspective and empathy.

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