It's January, meaning we start getting the tail-end of the "awards contenders" that make their impression overseas before hitting us in the new year. One of those films being Scott Cooper's slow-burning Western Hostiles.

Featuring one of the most intense openings to a film I have seen in some time, the opening minutes of Hostiles see Rosalie Quad (Rosamund Pike) have her entire family massacred in front of her by a raiding Comanche tribe - her husband is scalped and her two daughters and infant child are all shot dead. It's quite a violent opening but it's also a pretty accurate summation of what's to come for the audience; Hostiles doesn't ever step away from this intensity - it's a grizzly, violent ride. The rest of the film follows the racist US Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) - who we meet tormenting an Apache family - as he is made to escort a dying nemesis of his - Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), a man responsible for the deaths of many of Blocker's friends - across the country. Along the way, they find Rosalie and come up against all sorts of trouble as they make their way to Montana.

Throughout his career thus far, Scott Cooper has proven himself in every genre he steps into. With three fairly accomplished films already under his belt, he is more than a capable craftsman behind the camera but, if there was ever a shadow of doubt, Hostiles cements that talent and capability of his for telling a story as he heads into Western-territory. It's a film that certainly lives up to its title: it's a hostile, isolated and often quite moody affair. But it works. It's a riveting piece and Cooper has crafted something here not only compelling in its nature - nuance seeps through every frame; the characters so dense and well-conveyed - but it also feels quite timely and relevant too - rather dauntingly so, it should be said, given the material on hand and the sociopolitical commentary on racial misconduct, bitterness and hate. It's a slow-burning film, really letting the characters and performances revel in the environment and dialogue and whilst it can feel plodding and a little too tedious and grinding at times, it's mostly effective in creating a very captivating character piece.

Of course, the performances are exceptional. Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, Ben Foster and Call Me By Your Name standout Timothee Chamalet all make up an impressive supporting cast but this film belongs to Rosamund Pike and Christian Bale - more so the latter; the former has some very dark material to work with here but there's a brittle strength and determination to her Rosalie that makes her a riveting and unpredictable force and Pike delivers it with such conviction. Bale never ceases to impress and he brings so much humanity to the moody, vicious Blocker - it's a very emotionally charged performance and Bale, as always, delivers such strong and believable work and breathes such life and heart into such a tormented and evil soul seeking redemption. It's also a gorgeously shot film too, with DP Masanobu Takayanagi revelling in the gorgeous landscapes and the naturalistic beauty of this genre. Cooper certainly wears his influences on his sleeve, and Hostiles feels old-fashioned in its execution - it's violent and harsh; it's a story of redemption and humanity; it has the shoot-outs and horse chases, but it's executed with enough flair and aplomb to make it a story that feels warranted. It is earned. It's not an easy swallow, but for those that are into their gritty shoot-em-ups, this is quite the cinematic and genre treat. Scott Cooper, you've done it again.

Hostiles wears its notion of the old-fashioned, slow-burning Western on its sleeve; it's certainly a pateince game that sometimes overcooks its flame but it's also quite the piece.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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