With the exception of Tombstone, I had zero affinity for westerns in my youth. When I started collecting Blu-rays a couple years ago, I picked up Day of Anger to add to my US Arrow Video collection. I rather enjoyed it and that prompted me to pick up others. Since then I’ve seen all sorts recently, everything from spaghetti westerns, to staples like Unforgiven, to little-known ones like The Timber or Traded. This lead me to be quite interested in catching Hostiles after I watched the trailer while making our weekly theatrical post.
Hostiles carries a thirty-two million dollar budget and some decent star power with Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, and Wes Studi as the main cast. With supporting roles by Ben Foster, Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, and a few others you may recognize. What most intrigued me about this film was the theme of PTSD. It’s subtle, but it’s widespread throughout the film and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the goal of the writer. I watched with others and they didn’t even notice.
The Movie Itself (3.5/5)
Before I delve more into the PTSD aspect, I should probably tell you a little about the characters and the plot in case you don’t know anything about the film yet. At its heart, Hostiles is just as much of an adventure/road movie as it is a western. A mishmashed group of people on a journey, taking various detours, meeting new people, coming across challenges, and ultimately trying to reach their destination. I’m a fan of road movies and rather like when there isn’t a central antagonist.
Hostiles pulls no punches. Right from the opening scene, we are shown the brutality of life for those settling out West. Besides just showing you, the movie also gives a lot of backstory exposition for why certain characters dislike those of the other race.
We meet Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) who is purported to be a ruthless killer and hates the natives for almost killing him and especially dislikes Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi). So much so that he almost is willing to get dishonorably discharged from service rather than follow his Colonel’s orders to take him to Montana. This is where I think the backstory hurts a part of the film as Blocker quite quickly evolves and changes his mindset. It’s a little hard to believe his ideals are so malleable.
Even so, he sets out with his soldiers to bring the Chief back to his homeland. Along the way, they encounter Rosalee Quaid (Rosamund Pike) and the aftermath of the opening scene. Having already touched upon depression and stress back at the fort with the soldiers, it’s full bore here. Rosalee is understandably in utter shock and it’s interesting how Blocker and the soldiers deal with it. With nowhere else to go and the Comanches still on the loose, she reluctantly goes with the troops.
For the rest of the film, they battle natives, the elements, bandits, their own minds, and their own kind.
I rather enjoyed seeing the different challenges that our group faced on their journey. Some worked better as plot devices than others. People died randomly and sometimes stupidly, which you expect in a movie of course. Sometimes it felt like Blocker wasn’t the great captain we were lead to believe and it sure seemed like his character changed immensely in the short duration of the film compared to the history we are given and his unwillingness to even take on the mission.
The surface theme of accepting enemies and other races as maybe not so different from yourself was predictable at times and didn’t make the story interesting. I’m all for films and media having people look at their own faults and try to empathize with others, I just think it could have been done better. However, that’s probably why I really attached myself to the depression and PTSD theme. It was nice seeing it done from a different time period and the fact it affected multiple characters and people had different reactions to it versus just one quick scene of someone offing himself and barely acknowledging.
The locations and set designs/costumes really worked well in the film. You could see the level of detail they put into the film. The acting was another strong point, not only with the main cast, but all the supporting cast as well. You’ll wish Ben Foster was in the whole film instead of the little bit of comparative screen-time.
Visuals/Picture Quality (5/5)
Hostiles was shot primarily using Panavision XL2 35mm cameras. The digital intermediate was finished at 4K and really captures cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi’s vision. It’s quite impressive seeing as Takayanagi and director Scott Cooper have worked on a bunch of films together, but none quite like encompassing the scope of a huge open western setting. There are many great shots throughout. The landscape is gorgeous and you really get every color shining through which nicely contrasts the drabness of the costumes.
HDR is huge asset and compliments being shot on film nicely. Colors pop, detail and clarity are excellent. Even the dark scenes are lighted just well enough, you only lose a slight amount of crispness. The grain comes through wonderfully and even accentuates the fog and the rain. I think shooting on film with the anamorphic lenses was the right call. The Blu-ray looks terrific as well and would be top notch if not for there being an even better version with 4K and HDR. Seeing as the price difference is only like $5 getting the 4K is a no-brainer if you have the equipment or will be upgrading in the future.
Score/Audio Quality (4.5/5)
Some will be saddened by the non-inclusion of an Atmos or DTS:X track. However, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does a solid job throughout the film. The surround is constantly immersing you in this fantastical western world and makes the whole film feel especially alive. Most of the film is shot outside so you will always pick things up from the horses or other people. Fidelity is great and doesn’t disappoint.
The score is rather safe but complimentary. It fits the film well and accentuates each of the scenes. Dialogue is clear and clean and when Cherokee is spoken subtitles are automatically provided on the screen.
Special Features (2.5/5)
A Journey of the Soul: The Making of Hostiles (01:03:05) Not in 4K or HDR. It is included on both the 4K and Blu-ray disc, however. There is a play all feature that includes all three parts featured below.
Provenance (22:09) An in-depth look at the background of the film. Director Scott Cooper gives details of coming up with the story and also how he wrote parts for certain actors. We also get insights from some of the Native American consults. They discuss the authenticity of the film and their surprise that they were asked to be involved unlike a lot of films that portray Native Americans.
Removing the Binds (18:07) This part explores the different locations and what challenges they faced. It also goes quite into detail on the set designs and how they researched and built the various houses and forts. Finally, it delves into the various costumes for the main cast and the authenticity of each.
Don’t Look Back (22:49) A somewhat disjointed part compared to the previous two. The first section is praise for the director that you see in a lot of EPK stuff. They also go into various themes and tones and a little in-depth into the horseriding and Cherokee language.
Trailers (Blu-ray Disc Only)
- 47 Meters Down
- Friend Request
- Hurricane Heist
- 4K UHD & Blu-ray
- Disc Art
- UV Code (Will redeem in 4K if you use Fandango)
- Non-eco Dual Case
- Rounded Slipcover (I’ve ranted about these before, LOVE slipcovers but totally hate these Lionsgate ones)
- Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- English Descriptive Audio
- English SDH
Runtime 134 Mins
Hostiles Overall (4/5)
Even though it’s a western, Hostiles is a film that has many modern sensibilities and could be told in various settings. The acting, set design, costumes, locations, and all the particulars show this was a labor of love on many fronts. The picture and sound quality are top-notch and what you should expect from the 4K format. The packaging and special features are solid and certainly elevate the film to be seen on and owned on UHD versus just streaming.
You can pick Hostiles up from Amazon or many other fine retailers.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgment or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.