The westward expansion of the United States was largely fueled by the blindness new immigrants felt toward land they believed was theirs for the taking. It was empty, fertile and awaiting the fruits of their imagination to fill with whatever they could conjure. In their arrogance, they even came to see themselves as the first real inhabitants of this vast, uncharted field of dreams.
This was “Manifest Destiny,” a fantasy that clouded the minds of these immigrants, which proclaimed they had the right to invade and supplant anything in their path as part of a God-given providence. But, as is implied by characters in Scott Cooper’s new film “Hostiles,” God appears to have turned His back on the West and all that man has wrought in His name.
It is 1892, and Army Capt. Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is almost done. His career, although legendary and honorable to his superiors, stands upon a mountain of bloody remains. All the violence and horror has given Joseph a hardened soul. He is a man who has taken racial bigotry and hatred to a new level. In many respects, he embodies the vengeance of America’s genocidal policy toward Native Americans.
As the film opens, we are given two specific examples of why everyone in the West could be labeled as “hostiles,” and why Natives and immigrants had good reason to distrust each other at first glance. In one instance, a frontier family — mom, dad, two daughters and an infant — are enjoying an idyllic afternoon at home, but everything changes when a band of Comanches arrive demanding horses. Suffice it to say, the mother is the only survivor. This is Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike).
In the meantime at Fort Berringer in New Mexico, Joseph has been given orders by Col. Abraham Biggs (Stephen Lang) to accompany Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their homelands in Montana. They have been imprisoned for leading murderous raids against settlers. Joseph and Yellow Hawk are well acquainted with each other and the atrocities each have committed against each other’s people. We learn, however, that Yellow Hawk is dying of cancer and has asked to return to his homeland to die among his ancestors. In a rare display of humanity, Biggs has decided to grant his request.
Joseph refuses at first, but after Biggs appeals to his deep-seated sense of duty, he very reluctantly complies.
Thus begins a long and torturous journey as Joseph and his men lead these former enemies through dangerous territory. Along the way, they come upon the burned remains of the Quaid home and take Rosalie with them, ostensibly, to leave her at the next settlement where she might find safety and better shelter than a saddle by day and a tent at night. Also, along the way, Yellow Hawk and Joseph warily begin to use their adversary relationship as a way to forge a truce of sorts. They have to because the perils that lie ahead will require all of them to band together if they are to survive.
Cooper’s intent is clear with this film: to show that somehow humanity must rise to the top despite partisan beliefs. It’s not a new concept, and certainly one that was explored in many of the revisionist Westerns of the late 1960s and early 70s. What is atypical here is the focus on revealing these characters as more than symbols. These are all people with just as much to lose from indiscriminate violence as anyone else.
It isn’t perfect, however. Rosalie makes questionable decisions that seem uncharacteristic, and although much is made of Joseph’s friend and trail-mate Master Sgt. Thomas Metz’ (Rory Cochrane) post-traumatic stress disorder, we could have learned more of who Yellow Hawk’s party were to him: Black Hawk (Adam Beach), Elk Woman (Q’orianka Kilcher), Little Bear (Xavier Horsethief), and Living Woman (Tanaya Beatty).
Still, “Hostiles” is a movie worth seeing and pondering.
“Hostiles” is rated R for strong violence and language.
It is showing daily at Mitchell Storyteller Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.
Also showing in Taos
The following were compiled from press materials and a preview screening.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and some thematic elements
Mitchell Storyteller 7
In the epic finale to “The Maze Runner Saga,” Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) leads his group of escaped Gladers on their final and most dangerous mission yet.
To save their friends, they must break into the legendary last city, a WCKD-controlled labyrinth that may turn out to be the deadliest maze of all. Anyone who makes it out alive will get the answers to the questions the Gladers have been asking since they first arrived in the maze.
Will Thomas and the crew make it out alive? Or will Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) get her way? However, the biggest challenge may be to get the audience to remember what happened after the previous film ended in 2015.
Co-stars include Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Will Poulter, Giancarlo Esposito and Barry Pepper.
This film will be screened daily.
Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
MPAA rating: R for violence, language throughout and some sexual references
Movies at the TCA
Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) has had it up to here. It has been months since her daughter was murdered, and nothing has been done to find the person responsible. At least as far as she can tell. So, to put it mildly, she’s pissed.
In an act of creative frustration she decides to do something about it, but what she does will upend the tenuous status quo of a town that has lived with secrets and lies for generations. Certainly, writer-director Martin McDonagh has mapped out a dark and potentially distressing scenario with this film, but it is in the execution that he offers an insightful, tough and often hilarious look at a collection of complicated characters.
In a sense, the story has already begun when we first see Mildred get the idea for her act of insurgency. And, when it happens, we get the feeling that the murder that sparked it was the catalyst for a headlong stumble into a kind of purgatory for the citizens of Ebbing. Murders don’t happen very often in Ebbing. It’s a sleepy little town, with a well-known and revered sheriff, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), who leads a small force of mostly good if slightly dim police officers and even tolerates one, his second-in-command named Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who is a notorious drunk prone to uncontrollable rages.
This is a film that speaks to the anguish of a woman who is not taken seriously. It speaks to any woman who is too quickly labeled with ugly names for simply speaking up and pushing truth into the faces of unconscious men. Mildred simply wants justice. Is that too much to ask?
This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 4), and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (Feb. 5-7).
Movies at the TCA film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.