3:10 to Yuma

Hostiles

Versatility. Range. To me, these are the hallmarks of great acting – and they have served Christian Bale (The Big Short) well, from The Fighter to American Hustle. Hostiles marks his return to the Western, his first since 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma. One would hope that the genre has evolved enough to be devoid of stereotypes, while maintaining historical accuracy in a way that doesn’t sacrifice artistic merit. Hostiles didn’t break new ground within the genre, but emotional dramatic turns from Bale and co-star Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) make it a worthwhile film.

Set in 1892, the film depicts a rough and tumble American landscape of centuries past. Bale stars as Joseph Blocker, an Army captain tasked with a final mission before retirement, which he begrudgingly accepts. He must transport a dying Apache chief and his family back to their home state of Montana, as the elder is riddled with Cancer and has been granted mercy to die on his homeland. Violent and racist, Blocker’s visceral contempt for Native Americans could not be more obvious, and he pleads in futility to be excused from the mission. His superior officer ignores those complaints, and Blocker leads a small party of soldiers in the transport of Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi, A Million Ways to Die in the West) and his family, including his adult children and grandson.

Historical accuracy is important, and while it is true that some early Native Americans terrorized White settlers expanding West, it is equally true that White colonizers terrorized the indigenous populations already here. Be that as it may, the film did an effective job in its first act, presenting both sides of a philosophical coin in its depiction of brutality. In a riveting opening scene, a Comanche tribe descends upon a family to steal their horses. They slaughtered them all, save for Pike’s character Rosalie, now a grieving mother and widow. Blocker and company encounter the woman en route, and she joins their small, weary procession.

Hostiles is quite simply a movie about a journey from point A to point B. The strength of the film is in the richness and depth of the characters and the performances. The Captain is a figure whom you can’t quite root for or against. Initially Blocker is cruel, failing to see the humanity in his charge. However, in moments with the soldiers under his command and in his interaction with Rosalie, we see genuine affection and tenderness, a reminder of the complexity of human nature and the duality that lies within all of us. He is an effective leader, engendering loyalty that is met with a deep and loving gratitude. As they encounter peril in their journey, circumstances force Blocker to amend his dealings with Yellow Hawk and to forge a new, albeit begrudging respect as they face a common enemy together.

An air of sadness hangs over the film, giving it a somber tone throughout. I was moved by its theme of reflection, as several characters bleakly assessed their own careers and lives, burdened by the weight of loss. I was particularly struck by a poignant scene between two lieutenants, as the younger (Jesse Plemons, The Post) reflects on his first killing. The contrast between the two men was powerful, the older immune to regret over certain lives but not others. This emotional compartmentalization exemplified the cynicism of war and of life generally, and it was portrayed beautifully.

My critique of the film boils down to a matter of taste, of whether or not one can get past the limitations of the genre and the fact that it isn’t a “feel good” movie.  Hostiles was a fine film, featuring another excellent performance by Christian Bale, and a rich emotional turn from Rosamund Pike, which may be enough for some moviegoers.

Grade: B+

The Wolverine

The cream always rises to the top.  The star always gets the spin-off, or leaves the group to go solo.  Movie franchises are no different.  The X-Men are a captivating ensemble, but there are only a couple of them who you’d want to see alone.  I think Wolverine is such a character, and he’s the only one has his own franchise.  As I’ve stated before, I didn’t read the X-Men comic books, but I used to watch the cartoon – and Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) is the embodiment of the Wolverine.

When we find our long-lost Logan, he’s literally holed away in an isolated mountain cave on the outskirts of a small town.  He’s plagued by nightmares of Jean (Famke Janssen, Taken 2) and flashbacks to the World War II nuclear bombing of Nagasaki.  It was there that Logan saved the life of a Japanese soldier named Yashida, and the two men have never forgotten that fateful day.  Of course Logan hasn’t aged since then, but Yashida is now the elderly CEO of a profitable Japanese company.  Logan’s connection to Yashida is brought to the forefront even more when he encounters a young woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima).  She intervenes to help Logan in an altercation, but has been dispatched to summon him to Japan.  Yashida is on his deathbed and would like to see his old friend one last time.

Logan reluctantly travels to Japan, where he finds Yashida on death’s door.  He meets Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida’s granddaughter and Yukio’s adopted sister.  She is betrothed to a young Japanese man in a marriage arranged by her father, but everything is turned upside down when it’s revealed that Mariko will inherit her grandfather’s company instead of her father.  Later, she is nearly kidnapped by the Japanese Yakuza, but Logan intervenes and saves her.  Complicating matters is Yashida’s sinister doctor, who seems to have a hidden agenda.

The movie follows Logan and Mariko as they flee her would-be captors and Logan tries to figure out why his healing abilities are unexpectedly diminished.  Yukio has a premonition that Logan will die, and although he is dismissive of her concerns, it certainly seems like a possibility given his suddenly more human condition.  He and Mariko grow closer, especially when he uncovers betrayal within her family.  In the first act of the movie we are shown Logan’s tortured, solitary existence; in the second act he returns to Japan and we are introduced to the movie’s principal conflict; and in the third and final act we see the resolution of that conflict.  I appreciated the straightforward storytelling and found it largely effective.

Director James Mangold (Knight and Day, 3:10 to Yuma) created a dark landscape for Jackman, who is very good as Wolverine.  The role has never been played by anyone else on the big screen, nor should it.  The movie assumes that the viewer is familiar with X-Men and/or has seen the first Wolverine movie, and I won’t quibble with this.  I doubt anyone would go see this movie if they hadn’t seen either of those previous works.  I’ve seen a few tweets criticizing this movie – so I’m not sure what demographic to which it appeals, but I liked it.  Some decried the lack of action; others thought it seemed like a “kiddie” movie.  Bear this in mind, but I wasn’t disappointed at all.  Grade: B.