Hostiles movie review: white man’s burden

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Hostiles yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Sure, millions of Native people dead and ancient cultures destroyed, but who has to live with that? All the good soldiers who were just following orders, that’s who. Won’t someone think of the white man?tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

You know what the real white man’s burden is? Living with the guilt of the colonialism, oppression, and genocide you are party to. I mean, look at North America. Sure, millions of Native people dead and ancient cultures destroyed, but who has to live with that? All the good soldiers who were just following orders, that’s who. No one talks about that, do they? Won’t someone think of the white man?

Scott Cooper (Black Mass, Out of the Furnace) is thinking of the white man in Hostiles, his revisionist Western that revisions the genre right back into the white man’s perspective, where it belongs. Oh, there will be lessons to be learned by the white man, lessons about how being a racist murderer weighs down on a white man, about how giving in to feels about the “things” he’s “done” will be difficult and painful. And really, isn’t the biggest crime in all this how the white man is forced to suppress his emotions and his humanity, how he suffers while making others suffer? Doesn’t the white man deserve absolution from the noble savage? If he’s truly sorry, I mean? (If there are any noble savages who’ve survived, that is.) Of course he does.

“Are you tellin’ me that the red man is human too? What kinda craziness is that?”
“Are you tellin’ me that the red man is human too? What kinda craziness is that?”

US Army Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale: The Big Short, Exodus: Gods and Kings) is a “good soldier” who has made a career of fighting “wretched savages,” but now, even at the end of his army days, he is not satisfied that he has done enough. “There ain’t enough punishment for his kind,” Blocker believes of Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi: A Million Ways to Die in the West, Avatar), who has been held prisoner — along with his family, including a young grandson — for seven years at an army compound in New Mexico. The year is 1892, the frontier is closing, and attitudes toward the Indian back east are softening. The order comes from Washington: Yellow Hawk, who has got the cancer, and his family are to be escorted back to “sacred Cheyenne territory” in Montana, where he can die in peace. As a one-last-mission before his retirement, Blocker is assigned the task. This is an indignity that Blocker would rather not have to endure, but his pension is at stake, so off they go.

Scott Cooper’s revisionist Western revisions the genre right back into the white man’s perspective, where it belongs. /snark
tweet

Now, I know it sounds like Hostiles is a bit a SJW-ish, in suggesting that the white man isn’t in fact happy as a june bug to be slaughtering people for not being white, and for being on his land before he got there. And maybe it is, a bit. But I’d hate for you to think that the film does anything too radical, like present Yellow Hawk and his family as complicated human beings or anything. The Native Americans here are strictly one-dimensional, which is all Blocker’s redemption for his war crimes requires: they just need to meet the abuse he doles out on their journey with quiet dignity, all the better to start thawing his cold, cold heart a little, and they certainly don’t need to be offering even any mild recriminations for the way they personally have been treated for the past seven years, never mind how their people have been treated for the past several centuries. Why would they need anything by way of dialogue or character development? They just need to be the noble savages. Like the crying Indian in that 1970s ad for the Keep America Beautiful campaign: here is Native sadness at the white man that ensures that the white man remains centered. (Director Cooper based his screenplay on a “manuscript” by Donald E. Stewart, writer of such films as 1982’s Missing and The Hunt for Red October. Stewart died in 1999, and if this film hews very closely to Stewart’s work, that could explain why it feels more like how movies used to be, rather than indulging in that dangerous impulse we see so much of onscreen now that suggests that nonwhite nonmale creatures are people worthy of having their own stories told.) Yellow Hawk’s son, Black Hawk (Adam Beach: Suicide Squad (2016), Cowboys & Aliens), does get a few lines of dialogue, with even fewer still for Black Hawk’s wife, Elk Woman (Q’orianka Kilcher: The Vault), and for his sister, Living Woman (Tanaya Beatty: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1). Yellow Hawk’s grandson, Black Hawk’s son, Little Bear (Xavier Horsechief), barely says a word, just has to look cute and sad-eyed.

“I ain’t gonna be some lady here just to be abused so a white man can have some feels, am I? Am I?!”
“I ain’t gonna be some lady here just to be abused so a white man can have some feels, am I? Am I?!

But then we also have some marauding Comanches, who are even less than one-dimensional, and who certainly aren’t noble: they’re faceless boogeymen who swoop in and kill mercilessly. They did that to Mrs. Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike: A United Kingdom, Return to Sender), a nice white lady the travelers encounter who is the only survivor of a Comanche attack on her family. The Comanche are still out there, and still dangerous, but can Yellow Hawk and Black Hawk convince Blocker that they must team up to defeat them? An alliance with savages is too much for Blocker to contemplate… but lo! The Cheyenne, who are literally in white-man’s chains, still have the kindness to give some clean clothes to the white lady, and to honor her grief, which is loud and heartrending. If the savages can be gentle with a white lady — just like Blocker is! — maybe they’re not so bad after all?

Will white man Christian Bale retain his manly stoicism while also grudgingly conceding that perhaps savages are people too?
tweet

Still, there is a long way to go for Blocker. On one side, he has his master sergeant (Rory Cochrane: Oculus, Parkland), who has “the melancholy” over “our treatment of the Natives,” and on the other, an unrepentant soldier (Ben Foster: Inferno, Warcraft), whom the party is transporting to his hanging for heinous crimes that are unspecified but apparently indistinguishable from the “things” they all “did” to the Native peoples. Is there a middle ground for Blocker, one that lets him retain his manly stoicism while also grudgingly conceding that perhaps savages are people too?

“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” DH Lawrence wrote that in 1923, and Cooper uses the quote to open his film. But ha on Lawrence! Here’s Blocker’s soul starting to melt way back in 1892. Granted, the American soul has barely budged since. But it’s only been 126 years. Give it time.



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Tim Meyfarth
Tim Meyfarth
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 6:42pm

Your membership in the anti-white male hatred and erasure movement has been noted and thus your opinion can be completely and totally dismissed and ignored. Have a nice day, blatant sexist and racist against white men.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tim Meyfarth
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 8:40pm

Male “erasure”?

Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

You’re so sweet. You actually think that the whole world revolves around white men. Adorable. Or it would be, if that idea weren’t so pernicious.

Thanks for playing!

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Tim Meyfarth
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 10:31pm

White men make up overwhelming majorities in Congress, in corporate leadership, in Hollywood (both onscreen and off), and comprises all US presidents except one. When that’s no longer the case, maybe you’ll have a point about “erasure.” Until then, your opinion can be completely and totally dismissed and ignored. Have a nice day.

Bluejay
Bluejay
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 6:42pm

White man learns empathy for one-dimensional “noble savages,” and learns to feel guilt for his race’s crimes against them — didn’t we already give a Best Picture Oscar to this crap in 1990? Time for new perspectives, indeed.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Bluejay
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 8:43pm

Are you referring to *Dances with Wolves*? Cuz there’s no comparison at all. DwW gives us Native character who are complex and complicated. That movie may be about a white man, but it also gives us a really great depiction of one Native culture. They’re not one-dimensional characters in DwW.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 10:15pm

It’s been — good lord — 37 years since I last saw DWW, so I may not be remembering it clearly. :-)

cinderkeys
cinderkeys
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 11:11pm

Huh. Maybe I should watch that someday after all …

cinderkeys
cinderkeys
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 11:10pm

I’m saving this review for later, when I have time to read it—very much looking forward to it. I’m intrigued that it got a yellow light. Based on the trailer, it looked like something you’d hate. Then again, it looked like something I’d hate, so maybe I’m projecting. :)

Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones
Thu, Jan 18, 2018 2:37am

Well, I thought I wanted to see this…

cinderkeys
cinderkeys
Thu, Jan 18, 2018 8:12am

Yep, this sounds perfectly awful. I’m still confused as to why it didn’t get a red light. Especially given the plot point in which …

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… every single female character is raped, enabling the men to bond over a common cause. You’ve talked about how much you dislike rape-as-backstory or rape-as-plot-device where the writers go, “Hmmm, what’s an easy way to convey huge trauma?” This seems like that, multiplied by however many women it happened to here.

Of course, I only know this because I read a spoilery review. Did the movie somehow carry this off in a sensitive, nonexploitative way?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  cinderkeys
Thu, Jan 18, 2018 4:17pm

Yup, that plot detour is not good at all. The rapes are, at least, not depicted in a sensationalistic way. They happen offscreen, in fact.

I didn’t give the film a red light because there are some minor redeeming aspects here: the performances, especially by Bale and Pike, are terrific, and there *is* value in the idea of a white man changing his mind about his own bigotry. It just could have been handled better.

Gordios79
Gordios79
Thu, Jan 18, 2018 8:51am

You see the tree but you miss the forest… In your one dimensional vision you missed (maybe willingly) all the beautiful aspects and ideas of the film. In your effort to prove that the film’s perspective is one dimensional you managed to show that your perspective is the one dimansional – pity!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Gordios79
Thu, Jan 18, 2018 4:21pm

Okay, I’ll bite: What did you find “beautiful” about this movie? Why are all the characters who aren’t white men depicted in such unnuanced ways? How is a story about widening one’s perspective on others served by depicting those others as one-dimensional characters from one-dimensional cultures?

What, my larger question is, is the forest I’ve missed?

ratts ass
ratts ass
Thu, Jan 18, 2018 11:58pm

you pretend to be unbiast and logical in your thinking. One of the worst pretentious reviewers out there. I’m amazed that you try to get or even have poeple paying to view your blog. Crazy.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  ratts ass
Sun, Jan 21, 2018 10:14pm

you pretend to be unbiast and logical in your thinking

LOL. I would love to hear your defense of this.

BraveGamgee
BraveGamgee
reply to  ratts ass
Wed, Jan 24, 2018 7:45pm

Please look at the pink box posted right above the body of the review :)

Paul W.
Paul W.
Mon, Jan 22, 2018 2:27pm

Yes to all of this! I particularly love how Blocker is a living legend of a soldier yet somehow *SPOILER TO ANY SUCKER WHO SEES THIS*, can’t seem to keep anyone alive, not his soldiers, not his charges, only the nice white lady and the adorable Native American moppet,. Oh, and *THE UNKINDEST SPOILER OF ALL*, how the nice white lady will take the adorable moppet into her life and teach him the joys of not-Native-American living. Seriously? Have you been watching you own movie, for frigg’s sake?

John
John
Tue, Jan 30, 2018 4:06am

It was kind of funny when this site went full troll the last couple of years. Now it’s just become sad and pathetic like this review

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  John
Tue, Jan 30, 2018 10:09am

“Full troll.” LOL.

Get used to feeling uncomfortable because you’re suddenly being exposed to new ideas. Women (and people of color) are not going to shut up.

John
John
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Jan 31, 2018 5:26am

John

John
John
reply to  John
Wed, Jan 31, 2018 5:40am

No, I’m right and you should listen. Nobody cares about old white woman mimicking the dumb airheads at babe.net. People want legit movie reviews and criticism

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  John
Wed, Jan 31, 2018 4:41pm

Your discomfort is delicious.

CoCoLuv9491
CoCoLuv9491
Sat, Feb 03, 2018 11:13pm

Hmmmm… cynical.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  CoCoLuv9491
Mon, Feb 05, 2018 1:18pm

What’s cynical? To whom are to what are you responding?

CoCoLuv9491
CoCoLuv9491
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Feb 05, 2018 2:32pm

I’m responding to your “review.”

It’s a good movie. So sorry it wasn’t PC enough for you.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  CoCoLuv9491
Tue, Feb 06, 2018 1:04pm

What is “cynical” about my review?

Tiffany Hansen
Tiffany Hansen
Sun, Feb 04, 2018 7:39pm

Yaaassss to all of this. I was very tempted to go see this since I’ve heard they have an accurate portrayal of a Cheyenne dialect and cause Wes Studi and Adam Beach. But after seeing the trailer, I don’t like how it’s completely white centric and that the white characters are justified in their hate for Native Americans. I wish the movie would have been more incorporated more of the Native perspective (the movie does take place around 30 years after the Sand Creek Massacre, I would think they would have incorporated that into the movie).
“But I’d hate for you to think that the film does anything too radical, like present Yellow Hawk and his family as complicated human beings or anything.” Well, that’s disappointing.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tiffany Hansen
Mon, Feb 05, 2018 1:19pm

It’s more than disappointing: It’s inexcusable.

CoCoLuv9491
CoCoLuv9491
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Feb 05, 2018 2:28pm

It’s a movie. Get over yourself.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  CoCoLuv9491
Tue, Feb 06, 2018 1:03pm

You don’t understand what film criticism is, do you?

Tom Rose
Tom Rose
Thu, May 10, 2018 6:47pm

Some good points about the poor characterisation of the Indians, though this would have been limited by the language barrier. No comments about the fact that 3 major scenes took place off camera despite the long build up?

Also it’s hard to take this review seriously on the whole as it seems to be more about you expressing your hatred of white people

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tom Rose
Tue, May 15, 2018 4:19pm

would have been limited by the language barrier.

What language barrier prevented the screenwriter from crafting fully human Native characters?

expressing your hatred of white people

LOL. Oh, you!

zanyzanne
Sun, Sep 02, 2018 6:11pm

Great review. I lasted through 8 whole minutes of this racist movie. Why are we still making propaganda like this?

Jeff Nickell
Jeff Nickell
reply to  zanyzanne
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 7:04pm

Hello fellow NPC. A Russian bot told me that Black men are disproportionately shot by police officers because they commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime. When accounting for violent crime as a variable, black men are underrepresented in police shootings. Needless to say I told the racist hitler to stop #mansplaining his facts because truth is subjective and its not my truth. #resist!

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
reply to  Jeff Nickell
Sat, Nov 17, 2018 3:01am

One day, one of these chucklefucks using “NPC” as some sort of insult will demonstrate the slightest glimmer of an original thought.

Not today, mind. But someday,

Jeff Nickell
Jeff Nickell
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 4:47am

I actually thought this review was a parody of SJWs at first. It seems I have stumbled into a pit of low-IQ hysterical neomarxist cat ladies. What a fascinating habitat. Godspeed, cultists. I wish you well!

amanohyo
amanohyo
reply to  Jeff Nickell
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 12:40pm

I sincerely believed this comment was a parody of MRAs at first. It appears I have careened into the hideous confines of a paranoid Breitbartian nightmare. What a pitable worldview. Excelsior, Soros scapegoater. Tus contribuciones al mundo no tienen valor.

Jeff Nickell
Jeff Nickell
reply to  amanohyo
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 6:54pm

Salutations friend, I believe you have mistaken me for a Breitbart Trumptard redneck right wing Nazi racist hitler russian bot. I am actually a fellow HuffPo cultist on your side! #resist. My name is NPC6969. My primary function is to misrepresent any disparity of outcome as a disparity of opportunity in order to claim victimhood as I critique hierarchies of competency that I am at the bottom of.

amanohyo
amanohyo
reply to  Jeff Nickell
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 9:52pm

Bienvenido comrade! You have bumbled headlong into my devious snare, for I am in actuality the joker, the smoker, the Supreme Slippery Sloper, Baron von Breitbart himself! I knew you were a wretched NPC the moment I read your laughable imitation of one of my glamorous Caucasian followers. Gaze upon the high ranking CEOs, politicians, and celebutantes of this Earth and despair of ever being their equal in competency, class, and cajones!

The universe is but a level playing field, and you chose to spiral straight into the toiletbowl of life! I myself was born an HIV positive orphan with one finger, half a lung, seven incurable bone diseases, raised by an abusive leprous Gambian druglord who beat me mercilessly with a irritable porcupine at the slightest provocation, and forced to watch Alf reruns on the daily, yet look at me now Willie Tanners of the world! I stand brazenly atop the most powerful news organization of the Manopoloverse smiting every catfancying communomarxist postmodernazi fembazoids in my path with the greatest of ease!!!

P.S. Have you seen this movie yet? The review is lukewarm, and I was kinda hoping for a second opinion.

Jeff Nickell
Jeff Nickell
reply to  amanohyo
Sat, Nov 17, 2018 8:21am

The movie was total uninspired ass. The shallow characters are all easily forgettable and simply randomly kill each other one by one in pointless and forced encounters. The entire story can be summed up as “Christian bale doesn’t like indians at first, but then he thinks they are okay”. I found the forced diversity propaganda shallow and boring, and ironically it seems to have upset the very audience it was geared towards (crazy cat lady SJW communists). I guess they hate it because the evil white man is friends with indians? When it should be an intersectional coalition of transexual women of color that wear pussy hats and screech until the evil whiteman dissapears off the screen.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jeff Nickell
Sat, Nov 17, 2018 1:05pm

forced diversity propaganda

Yeah, you don’t know the meaning of “resist.”

I guess they hate it because the evil white man is friends with indians?

Wow, you really do not understand the issues at all, do you?

Also, you’re banned.

amanohyo
amanohyo
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Nov 17, 2018 1:41pm

Woah, this dude clearly didn’t take the time to read or comprehend the main point of your review. So much blind rage and condescension heaped on a vague imaginary boogeywoman he doesn’t even try to understand. If he actually watched the movie (which I’m starting to doubt), it would be a sad irony. Reminds me of that “Hearts and Minds” episode of Outer Limits.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  amanohyo
Sat, Nov 17, 2018 4:27pm

The American educational system has much to answer for.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jeff Nickell
Sat, Nov 17, 2018 1:03pm

What the fuck could you possibly be resisting when you’re spouting this shit in all apparent seriousness?