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FILM REVIEW: "Hostiles"

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Christian Bale in the new revisionist Western "Hostiles."
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As a revisionist Western, Hostiles definitely wants to have its frybread and eat it too.

Straddling the fine line between white savior cinema and caustic Native patronization, Hostiles is a manipulative exploration of the reimagined relations between various Civil War remnants in the last days of the Old West, filled with hilariously clunky Caucasian histrionics that liberally mingle with faux apologies aplenty for the many misdeeds against Natives while still dutifully embracing the stoic white soldiers that caused them. For example:

(White military officer punches Indian in face.)

“Hey, sorry we stole your land and killed your people, but it was all for the greater good of America,

right? I’m sure you understand. Here’s a reservation and blanket. Friends?”

(Indian cries. Then dies.)

A bloated oater worthy of a dime-store novel that probably made for great outhouse paper after reading, Hostiles depicts a frontier full of battle-weary, beaten-down warriors—proudly repping them open wounds with more flair than a cadre of weekend reenactors—sojourning across a land that is plaintively lost to the march of progress, leaving these stone-cold killers behind and their victims even more so. Not sure who we’re supposed to feel sorrier for.

Christian Bale is in full-on Outlaw Josey Batman mode, as a remorseless Injun-killer with vocal rasp and a cookie-duster to go with it. When he’s charged to lead a dying Indian Chief (Wes Studi) back to his homeland in Montana, he does so with plenty of anti-Native bile, a hatred that is only reinforced when he picks up a recently widowed homesteader (Rosamund Pike), having just lost her entire family—including newborn baby—to a pack of whoopin’ and hollerin’ Indians straight out of John Ford’s wettest dreams.

Of course, throughout the journey, the palefaces learn various lessons about the brotherhood of man, the evils of their white ways and so on, but not before every single Native member of their riding party is taken down brutally one by one, leaving an embittered Bale to spill buffalo tears over their graves and cry out “Why, Anglo Saxon God, why?” in a bid for Oscar notoriety. Which failed, of course.

While I don’t fault the stellar cast of name-brand Native actors for signing on—Studi, Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher—because, let’s face it, Hollywood ain’t gonna make a picture with Indians any other way and they gotta eat too, both Bale and especially Pike are hysterically over the top and their bizarre performances are worth a free Redbox rental at the very least.

As much as Hostiles thinks it lives up to the title—either literally or metaphorically—it’s really just more of the same Dances with Wolves revisionist propaganda at about half the running time and with none of the wolf dancing. We’ve seen it before and sadly, we’ll probably see it again.

Better luck in the next life, Chief.

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Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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