It’s awards season and I’ve started early this year, not that I think that Hostiles (2017) is gunning for any awards, just the timing of the release in cinema’s. Nonetheless it’s a Western which means only one thing, I’m there. Booking the tickets even with a few warm reviews I decided I had to see this for myself. Based on the manuscripts of Donald E Stewart about an army captain who reluctantly takes on a mission that changes his politics. Now this is how Soldier Blue (1970) could have gone, but decided to be more literal. I also found a few links to The Searchers (1956) which I’m always looking to explore through other films.
After years of internal wars between the White settlers, who had been shaking up and re-organising the country into a shape that more resembled their own destiny, we forget about the soldiers and people who were caught up in the Indian Wars that have left the Native Americans greatly diminished and broken. Hostiles attempts to address some of those issues in this Revisionist Western. Beginning by reverting to classic form – a Comanche raid on a family who are massacred, it’s straight to the point, gruesome and sets the tone for what is to come. Leaving wife and mother Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) alone to bury her family, potentially altering her outlook on life too. She could have easily allowed racist tendencies to creep in and understandably too. It’s too later for Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) who is an embittered racist who has seen more than his fair share of bloodshed whilst in uniform. Easily seen as an extension of Ethan Edwards if he stayed in uniform. Yet his racism comes from another place, that is never really explored, leaving us to question how did he becomes this monster who could hate Native American’s that boils over when he discovers his family massacred, raped and captured also by Comanche’s. Blocker is given one last mission under threat of court-martial for refusing, to escort a now elderly Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their home land of Montana. Part of me thinks this is a test set by his commanding officer Col. Abraham Briggs (Stephen Lang) wants to see him suffer, to test his politics before the decorated officer retires. A big “Screw you” you could say.
The last time I saw Studi was as another historic Native American Geronimo in the 1993 film, here much older he gets slightly less screen time than his white colleagues who dominate. Showing there is still away go before they are given a fair representation in the genre. However they were portrayed with compassion unlike the Comanche who’re reduced to an obstacle to overcome – somethings never change. I’m not too surprised either, it’s a long ingrained part of the genre that is hard to shake. To achieve that they will have to be a Native American in the directors chair, with an un-compromised voice. That said The Cheyenne’s that are depicted with sensitivity, we can see they’re spirit has been broken but theirs hearts haven’t, which is the extent of the Cheyenne’s suffering is really explored.
The focus as always comes from the white man- Blocker whose our Ethan Edwards filled with racial intolerance for the Cheyenne that he has to escort across the open country. It’s his journey that we follow which has an interesting effect on him. Much like Edwards, he knows his foe very well, having learned to speak Cheyenne, he knows the enemy intimately, maybe too well. With the pomp of leaving his fort one last time he has his foe chained up, there’s no trust for the elderly warrior who puts up with this indignity. He wont rise to the bait, a decent man knows when he’s been defeated. This last throughout the discovering of the burnt out homestead where we find grief stricken Rosalie Quaid, everyone in the party can understand her pain. Pike delivers a heartfelt performance, you can really feel her pain, I wondered if she would cross into racial hate, making Yellow Hawks journey home even harder. Would her grief match the hate that of Blocker’s? Playing a vital part in Blocker’s transformation by the films close.
We start out of the fort with a small Master Sgt. Thomas Metz (Rory Cochrane) stricken with depression, Corp. Henry Woodsen (Jonathan Majors) who has been proud to serve with Blocker Lt. Rudy Kidder (Jesse Plemons) fresh out of West point ready to prove his superiors he’s worth his rank and French recruit Pvt. Philippe DeJardin (Timothée Chalamet) who has no real experience in the army. The small group meet resistance early on in the form of the Comanche who are the first of many obstacles on their long journey that has an effect on the number of men in uniform. Taking on Rosalie Quaid, could easily be seen as a burden to them. It’s the aftermath of these events that start to open up Blocker’s view of the world, starting to question his thinking. Finally confronted when he takes on army prisoner Corp. Tommy Thomas (not a very original name) (Paul Anderson) under the care of Sgt. Paul Malloy (Ryan Bingham).
Thomas is the equal of Blocker, yet he has used his racial hatred to kill a Native family whilst not under orders. Purely for them being there. A cold-blooded killer who shows no remorse for his crime, would Blocker have done the same out of uniform or has his uniform given him licence to kill and get away with it. The security position and rank have been enough, to go as far as Thomas would be a point of no return for the captain, or is this the next part of his life outside of the protection of the uniform. The Indian Wars and Frontier nearly closed he would be a monster in civilised society, an Ethan Edwards in fine clothes.
There’s a lot of ground covered both literally (and spectacularly on camera) and thematically, from racism to man first killing to forgiveness. It goes along way to get us to Montana and it’s not an easy ride with a lot to think about. Filmed over the last year it can now be easily seen as a response to America today, as it becomes increasingly alone in its world view. The development of a wall on the Southern border with Mexico. The political divide is stronger than ever with a President who you either trust implicitly or question his every tweet. Blocker is leaving one life behind for another, does he want to bring his past life to his future. Hostiles attempts to deal with a very contentious issue and does a good job – on the white man’s side. Whilst the Native American has to just accept his place in the film and history on the chin. I wish the Cheyenne had more time to talk, to explore their position, instead they are just lead and protected by the army that’s trying now to do right by them. It reminded me lastly of Cheyenne Autumn (1964), the depiction of the Southern Cheyenne joining those in the North, which is more apologetic than Hostiles that draws it out of the characters slowly, not so much the director. I can only conclude that Revisionist Westerns will only be apologising with white actors in the lead role rather than the Native’s who depiction and capacity in the film is still being determined through the winners history.
Admittedly my first reading of this film was more about the surface of American Psycho (2000) which still has a very strong surface level which is still valid to how you read the film. However as I found out just recently after another viewing I have come away seeing this turn of the century film more as a dark comedy. I say that heavily as it’s not just about the comedy as I found out.
We still have the vain characters, I originally said that the yuppies were metro sexual, that label really can’t be applied anymore as they are more about indulgence than just taking better care of themselves. When we first meet Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) he’s basically acting as an advert for a way of life that we associate with women’s products for different cleansing processes which I personally laugh at. Not saying I’m a smelly guy, just not so concerned I spend half an hour getting ready in the morning. Bateman has a routine that’s dictated by consumerism no longer an individual. That’s just one strand of the film that really is more rewarding on the second watch.
I admit that I was laughing more than I originally remember, seeing what I was missing, going along for the ride instead if exploring something new. The comedy’s needed to balance out the horror that I will come to later in my reading of the film. The absurdity of the materialistic lifestyle of both the men and women who don’t do any work. The world of finance doesn’t just have to be about making money, you have to spend it obviously. With lunches, dinners and clubbing, sounds like a good life if only the conversation was more intelligent.
The men compete with each other like stereotypical women. A key thing is the business cards that replace shoes or handbags. A male translation is the “mines bigger than yours” without actually saying anything. The reliance on these items of identification and need for social validation shows how much they need each other and don’t. The stock-market stereotypes cranked up.
Moving onto the horror which I could hardly remember beyond Huey Lewis being played before the first murder. We’re removed from the satire into a completely different genre. Bateman delivers a critique of the album, well all of the popular music played, lulling his victims into an intellectual conversations. They just sit, think and wait to be killed. Its part of a methodology that he not only has outside of work, its pathological how he plans out these killings. The animal inside’s unleashed as if it has been held back by the culture he has decided to conform to is breaking him. The primal urges are breaking out within a culture that’s caged him in a suit and cologne.
I have known about this film for a few years now, ever since I was at uni really, thinking no more of it. Just a friends favourite, knowing very little about American Psycho (2000). Reading over the years very little, expect that it was on the extreme side with a cult following, about time to see what all the fuss is about then, and return some video tapes. Looking further we see a culture that seemingly turns a blind eye to all of this violence. The audience at first believes they’re being fooled into what could be his own reality. He says he wants to kill a barmaid, she ignores this venting completely. either we are only aware of this thought or the culture he lives in is deaf to violence until its acted upon.
The second viewing of the violence has admittedly lost some of its edge, becoming comical, maybe that’s me becoming desensitized to violence. Maybe it’s more Bateman’s expression derangement that gets me, he enjoys the killing, he gets a kick from it. When we see him during the day these urges start to slip over, we begin to question what is going on as other ignore him until it’s too late. When his conscience has catches up with him everything starts to fall inwards and not making much sense, leaving him and the audiences confused. This is probably not helped by private detective Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe) who’s been searching for Paul Allen (Jared Leto). Is this reality trying to wake Bateman up morally or just there to spur him on to kill more, knowing that he can and does throughout the film.
I must touch on the treatment of women in the film, not so much Bateman’s fiance Evelyn Williams (Reese Witherspoon) who plays up the dim blonde stereotype. I’m more concerned about the prostitute Christie (Cara Seymour) who is basically live bait that’s reeled in to be killed. It’s horrible to see how she’s treated as less than human, more a trained monkey. You could argue this is the role she has chosen in life. She does state that she’s not supposed to get into cars, being too dangerous, knowing her own boundaries. However moneys seen as a fair reason to get in the limo for a profitable night. Psycho redeems itself for when Christie becomes aware of the trap she is actually in.
The ending is as a disturbing as Stanley Kubrick‘s rewriting of A Clockwork Orange (1971) when Alex is “Cured”. The violence seems to have no end, going on beyond the limits of the film into our own thoughts, what will he do now that society has corrected the mistake has inflicted upon him. Whereas Bateman realises that he has a get out of jail card almost, able to satisfy his urge of violence with no real consequence. Mirroring the financial world where crazy deals for silly monies made with no concept of reality for the effect they may have on others.
I can safely say that I have come out of my second viewing with a richer experience, more complete and rounded, another viewing can only being me more.
You can never pass up a chance to catch a Terrence Malick film, even just to see what he has been doing. This time catching The New World (2005) the latest version of the Pocahontas story which I recently read may never have actually happened, more a fabrication to romanticise the first men to arrive on the then untouched continent. Pocahontas did indeed exist, so did John Smith, it’s just very doubtful they met, the Native Powhatan would have been far younger at the time when she saved the lucky captains life. It could be as author Thomas King suggests is just a story fabricating by Captain John Smith that has lasted from his first arrived in Virginia in 1607. He is believed to have brought it back to life Pocahontas arrived in England 1616 at royal request. There is some fact in their, which itself has become one of the early legends to emerge from America.
That’s not to take away from this film, it’s just the context from which I view this film. It carries on that legend with a touch of Malick to boot. His previous film The Thin Red Line (1999) focused on WWII and the men who were fighting the Pacific islands. There was still an equal balance between the landscape cinematography which makes the film so breath-taking to watch and the inclusion of the actors. Which over recent films has been paired back considerably. The same can be seen in The New World with a clear narrative in place, there is a story to tell, one that really suits Malick’s direction. As a British crew arrives on what would become Virginia a group of settlers begin a new life, hopefully co-existing with the Natives or “Naturals” for as long as possible. I can’t help but think of all the events that are to follow and how they could have been so different with this mindset.
Obviously the peace cannot last between the two people and the first of many conflicts begin. Amongst all of this a, romance between at native woman, daughter of the chief Powhatan and the captain of the settlers. After saving him from certain death, it’s up to her to learn all she can from him. It’s going well between Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) a whirl wind romance, based on the exploration of two different worlds coming together, learning from one another and ultimately loving each other which costs them both in different ways.
I’ve never really been a massive fan of Farrell (he is growing on me) here is feels strained, not used to the introspective world of Malick unlike Christian Bale‘s (John Rolfe) who saves the film after Smith is recalled to lead his own missions. Giving more depth to the film opposite the increasingly westernised Pocahontas/Rebecca who is fast becoming an upstanding member of the new community and the civilised world. There seems to be some harmony between the tribe and the settlers who increase in numbers, It’s not really explored, instead looking at her relationships. She is the real centre of the film, as she leaves one untouched world of nature to one that has been shaped by centuries of development and history, a culture that comes to admire and love her.
Ultimately that shots without dialogue and actors are the money shots that make this film worth watching. The subject matter is secondary to the serene landscape shots of the new world that is ripe for exploring, using the camera as a form of recording the past, the old new world comes alive once more, and is still there is you look hard enough to enjoy and appreciate it. I wonder if the tale of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith were really true, or just the first of many legends to come out of the country that is both rich is fact as it is in fiction. Sometimes the fiction is more romantic than the fact.
- The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005) (armchairc.blogspot.co.uk)
- Review: The New World (2005) (billsmovieemporium.wordpress.com)
- The New World (stillsearching.wordpress.com)
- From the Archives: THE NEW WORLD (2005) (demonsresume.wordpress.com)
- Favourite Films – The New World (2005) – Terrence Malick (rolad.wordpress.com)