“Hostiles”: ambitious indie western examines the implicit racism in the old West as an Army captain returns a “guilty” Cheyenne chief to his homeland

Hostiles” (or “Hostis”), directed by Scott Cooper and based on a story manuscript by Donald E. Stewart, is a large independently produced ($39 million budget) western, that is strong on challenging the racism implicit in western pioneers in the 19th Century, but somehow got snubbed at the Oscar nominations.  It has shown at Telluride. The drama (139 minutes) evolves slowly, but the few violent scenes are very intense, matching “The Unforgiven” and “Silverado”.

The film opens as a landowner in New Mexico has to defend his homestead against a sudden Cheyenne attack, and the family is largely massacred, although the wife (Rosamund Pike) and daughter survive. Just before the attack (almost the very first scene), the mother is home-schooling her daughters on what an “adverb” is — writers will cringe, or laugh.

Soon Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is challenged – that is ordered – to escort the aging Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) all the way to Montana, where he is likely to die soon.  The Captain objects because he considers Hawk responsible for the massacre, but president William Henry Harrison has ordered it.

Timothee Chalamet plays an Army private on the mission, and unfortunately he falls to an ambush.  You want to see more of him.

The film has several conversations about the morality of settlers taking lands from native Americans. In the nativist family value system of the time, you “took care of your own”. At the end, Blocker is confronted by angry “sovereign” landowners as he returns Yellow Hawk.  Blocker is willing to shoot a fleeing man and then follow him and break his neck.

The distribution company seems to be involved in litigating against telecoms for racial discrimination in programming, and seems to be quite active in the network neutrality debate.

3-1/2 stars out of 5 is my rating.

(Posted: Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 6 PM EST)

Open pit mine near Butte, MT which I visited (in snow) in early May, 1981.

Name:  “Hostiles”
Director, writer:  Scott Cooper, Donald E. Stewart
Released:  2017/12/31
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Potomac Yards, 2018/1/27, moderate audience, Saturday afternoon, seemed to like film
Length:  134
Rating:  R
Companies:  Entertainment Studios, Freestyle Releasing, Waypoint, Grisbi
Link:  Oscarsdeadline


“Wind River”: intense “modern western” crime drama about native American politics

Back in 1997, a jogger “went up” near Lander, Wyoming and disappeared without tracks.  Some people think that’s evidence of UFO’s.  But the current “modern western” directed and written by Taylor Sheridan “Wind River” starts with a disappearance and then the discovery of the body of a teenage native American woman (Kelsey Asbille) deep on the reservation, and the uncovering of the dirty behavior behind it. The film reminds me of Coen Brothers material, with less dark humor,, and a  plot that reminds you of Cormac McCarthy.

FBI agent Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen) arrives and find she is in over her head, both with dealing with the oncoming early mountain winter (no global warming here) and the legal maze of tribal, state and federal law.  (I remember a little of this from living in Minnesota and visiting Red Lake once.)  Cory (Jeremy Renner), a US game tracker, will help her with the snowplow journeys into the wilderness, where they encounter some very bad behavior indeed by both natives and white oil field workers.  There is an impressive sequence filmed around a worker’s “dormitory” trailer complex (that’s how movie stars live for months on wilderness sets), that gets violent indeed.  There’s one particularly captivating shot of a mountain lion family in a den; the cats are left alone.

The film was actually shot in the Wasatch Range of Utah.  I did travel through the Lander and Wind River area in August 1994.

But I think I saw Square Top Mountain in the film.

Hollywood Reporter has a curious story about the distribution of the film.

Recently, NBC Dateline did a story about a good Samaritan rescue of a teenager who crashed a plane in the Big Horn Mountains, to the Northeast.

The end credit roll of the film points out that disappearances of young native-American women are all too common.

Name: Wind River
Director, writer:  Taylor Sheridan
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  R
Length:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, large audience, 2017/8/12, afternoon
Rating:  R
Companies:  The Weinstein Company TWC
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, August 12, 2017, at 7:30 PM EDT)


“Hell or High Water”: a modern western without Coen-like humor


Name: Hell or High Water
Director, writer:  David MacKenzie, Taylor Sheridan
Released:  2016/8
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: 2016/8/30, AMC Shirlington, fair audience Tues. night
Length 102
Rating R
Companies: Lionsgate, CBS, Sidney Kimmel, Oddlot
Link: site

Hell or High Water”, by David MacKenzie (screenplay by Taylor Sheridan) sets itself up as a quasi-Coen-Brothers movie, without quite the edgy humor, but some pretty startling violence from a team of outlaw brothers you root for.

In West Texas, ex-con Tanner Howard (Ben Foster, playing villain “Mars” in the previous film) enlists his divorced and “better” (if divorcing) baby brother Toby (Chris Pine), to rob some banks of just enough money to pay off the debt on a ranch that the banks are trying to foreclose on. That seems just enough, like the banks get what the deserve in a post-2008-crash economy.  Oil has been discovered on the land, and the younger brother is sensible enough to realize that oil can save his family if he can get out of the crime spree.

As the film opens, a woman arrives at work in the morning, and is ambushed and temporarily abducted.  That’s frightening enough, until you realize later that the bro’s take only what they need.  We even learn that one of the bank managers suspects what is going on and encourages it (rather like encouraging the growing of marijuana during the 1980s to counter lower farm prices).

In the meantime, codger sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is being forced to retire, but becomes determined to catch the duo for one last hurrah. All of this leads to some violent climaxes:  a major bank robbery shootout rivaling that of “Heat” (1995), and then another scene where the brothers (or Tanner, at least) shoot at approaching cars to force them to turn back.  It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Toby does experience some redemption.

The film, shot in eastern New Mexico, seems like a modern western, as the plot line seems to come out of the 1880s.

Toby’s son, finishing high school and wanting something more from life than football, makes an impressive younger character (played by John-Paul Howard), to carry the family out of its catastrophic past.

Films for comparison could include “No Country for Old Men” (Coen Brothers, 2007) and even “Waltz Across Texas” (1981).

(Published: Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 at 11:15 PM)