Movie: Hostiles (2018)

When I was a kid, my perception of “culture” was very different.  You see, I was Polish and back then Pollock jokes were all the rage.  I remember one in particular: “How do you break a Pollock’s finger? (pause for effect) You punch him in the nose.”  People would laugh, I would laugh, we all would laugh.  But it left the intended feeling upon me: it was not cool to be Polish, Poles were stupid, Poles were gross.  Someone wanted to put that stigma in place and the way they served it up was in the form of (poor) humor.  That humor carried throughout America and to be Polish was to be the butt of a joke.  In my mind, I thought being Polish was just a step below all of the other cultures out there and when I identified with my ancestors, I always chose the Hungarians because – they were much cooler than the Poles.

I tell you that to say this: I have watched as it has unfolded, an amazing awareness of those who were previously marginalized (people of color, women, those with their own choice of self-identity, I could go on and on).  It is fascinating to watch and I know it is turmoil right now, their fighting for the right to be who they are and to be seen with dignity and respect.  Although brutal and overwhelmed with turmoil, it is still beautiful to behold as they find their strength and footing while presenting the best versions of self.  And as a Polish kid who was embarrassed by her lineage I can (on a much much smaller level) relate (but never fully understand).  As an adult who loves genealogy, I am proud of my Polish heritage and the strong people I come from. But when I reflect upon the plight of the Native Americans, my heart hurts. They are strong people who have fought and who are still pushed back and marginalized at every turn.

When I saw the first preview for this movie I was immediately drawn to it because my Pawpaw loved a Western movie more than anything (well, the war movie was right up there too – so I guess it was a tie between genres).  When the opportunity presented itself as a suggestion to see it with my girlfriends, I jumped on it immediately.  But, as I sat down in the theater (albeit two margaritas and a full belly of fajita salad into the evening), I had a little trepidation.  How would Native Americans be portrayed?  How would their struggles be portrayed?  Would they actually use NA actors?  Is this a respectful movie?  I was a little mad at myself for not investigating the movie before I sat in a seat to watch it (in public where I could not just press pause and look up facts).  I decided to be open-minded about the movie and just go with it.

The movie made me uncomfortable.  The cinematography was amazing.  The actors are ones I appreciate.  I appreciated that they employed Native American actors appropriately.  The pace was much slower than I prefer.  But my overall feeling when the credits rolled was that the movie made me uncomfortable.  I know that the Native American history as it is taught in school is riddled with wrong information.  I realized while watching this movie that I grew up on a diet of old Hollywood Westerns that “taught” me the white perspective of this incorrect history.  I also realized I am ill equipped and non-versed in their actual history and am not a good judge of what is right or wrong about the movie.

I found an article that was written in Indian Country Today which notes: “National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), applauds Hostiles for ‘authentic representation of Native peoples’ and accurate speaking of Native languages.”  The article can be found HERE. The article goes on to say: “To achieve accuracy and depth in the Native-focused content of the movie, director Scott Cooper worked with acclaimed Native filmmaker Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals, Skins), and Native academic Dr. Joely Proudfit as consultants. Their organization, The Native Networkers, has a mission to build bridges of understanding through media and enhance cultural knowledge and understanding through Native representation.”  I feel better that the people in charge of the production of this movie took their responsibility seriously.

(SPOILER ALERT SPOLIER ALERT SPOILER ALERT): There are scenes regarding the immediate aftermath of rape in this movie (another thing that usually keeps me from seeing a movie in the theater where it would be obvious that I get up, out of my seat, and leave for a length of time until the scene has passed).  This film touches on so many subjects that it is hard to keep track of all the “wrong things” even though the pace of the movie feels as if it is dragging. There is a woman who is brutalized but resilliant in a way that shows how strong she actually is. There is a soldier suffering from PTSD and depression (“There is no such thing as melonchalia.”) who commits suicide.  There is continual discussion of how Native Americans were tortured and murdered and their retaliation for those acts.  There is just so much that one is left gasping and saying, “FFS, what now??”  There was one thought that was a kind of constant through most of the movie for me: It is amazing that this character hates Native Americans this much but has a friend who is Black.

From NY Times Review: “Hostiles” opens with a well-traveled observation from D.H. Lawrence about how the “essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” It ends with a shot that complicates that idea by revisiting and in effect reversing a famous image from an earlier western: The last moment of “The Searchers,” when John Wayne lingers outside the door, symbolically barred from entering the civilized society he has saved.

I am torn between wanting to watch it again or not knowing if I want to be that uncomfortable for almost two hours all over again.

Have you seen it?  What was your reaction?  Let me know in the comments below.

Interviews of note:


IMDB Synopsis: In 1892, a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory.



Additional Movie Info:

It received a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 72% Fresh.  It received a Rotten Tomato audience rating of 71% liking it.  Average Rating: 3.7/5 with a number of User Ratings: 3,293.

Movie Reviews:

Specs:  Release date: 26 January 2018 (USA) / Runtime: 134 minutes / Budget: $39M

IMDB Trivia:

  • The film was shot in chronological order.
  • The widow of credited screenwriter Donald E. Stewart found the “Hostiles” script when moving house. Stewart, who died in 1999, had not shopped the manuscript to any studios, and his wife was surprised to come across it. After seeing Crazy Heart (2009) and Out of the Furnace (2013), she felt that Scott Cooper was the right man to shepherd it towards the screen.
  • Actors, Wes Studi and Adam Beach, have appeared together in other films, most notably as Detective Joe Leaphorn and Sargent Jim Chee in three movies based on books written by Tony Hillerman; “A Thief in Time, Coyote Waits, and Skinwalkers.” They have also appeared in other films including “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”
  • Christian Bale initially had reservations about the close of film feeling it was “a movie ending” and would debate Scott Cooper on the matter. Bale felt that his character should just disappear into the crowd never to be seen again. Trusting Cooper’s vision he filmed the scene as written and came to appreciate the ending for its hopefulness but also for the questions it raised about the future.
  • Quote: Rosalie Quaid: Sometimes I envy the finality of death. The certainty. And I have to drive those thoughts away when I wake.
  • Quote: Captain Joseph J. Blocker: Understand this: When we lay our heads down here, we’re all prisoners.


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