The frontier is mercilessly still very much a white man’s affair.
Scott Cooper‘s new take on the classic Western, Hostiles, now has a trailer. Featuring a star-studded cast, including Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Q’orianka Kilcher, Adam Beach, Ben Foster and more, the film already looks extremely brutal and broody. Watch the trailer below.
Official synopsis: “Set in 1892, Hostiles tells the story of a legendary Army Captain (Bale), who after stern resistance, reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Studi) and his family back to tribal lands. Making the harrowing and perilous journey from Fort Berringer, an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico, to the grasslands of Montana, the former rivals encounter a young widow (Pike), whose family was murdered on the plains. Together, they must join forces to overcome the punishing landscape, hostile Comanche and vicious outliers that they encounter along the way.”
Hostiles already appears to be a great homage to the classic Western. Narrative-wise, the film’s characters are tortured in their path to redemption, to say the least. Everyone is looking to understand themselves amidst death, loss, and suffering, and the characters struggle to reconcile their nomadic present with a dark, horrid past. It isn’t a stretch to assume that factions and divisions will probably understand each other a little more by the end of the film too.
The Hostiles trailer also showcases the sheer cinematographic spectacle of the film that, as Victor Stiff points out in his review, is easily a standout quality of the movie: “If someone threw a red filter over the camera they could convince me those shots are from Mars. Every scene in Hostiles, ranging from green pastures to dusty cowpoke towns, is immaculately rendered.” The trailer makes the film look lived-in and world-weary, and the bleakness of the landscape is evidently as important to the story as the performances.
However, I can’t say I watched the Hostiles trailer without any concerns. A particular red flag happens to be that only white people talk throughout the entire trailer. Stiff’s review of the film gives me further pause as well. Stiff writes, “it’s disappointing to see [Indigenous actors Kilcher, Beach, and Studi] relegated to the background for much of the film.” So, Studi’s Yellow Hawk is instrumental in narrative progression, but if he is mostly wordless throughout the film, then he may be relegated to plot device status rather than given enough room to become an actual character. The same goes for Kilcher and Beach’s characters, and that’s worrying.
Of course, the general sentiment among critics is that Cooper tries to critique the idealization of frontier life, or at least attempts to level the playing field of perspectives in Hostiles. Part of the appeal of a Western is the personal reckoning that comes with witnessing terrifying, gory violence, and nobody comes out unscathed from the psychological effects of such horrors. That being said, it remains concerning that time and time again, these stories prioritize a white male perspective, even if it is done in a trailer to sell a movie. Indigenous communities are once again featured as backdrops, even in films that want to shed light on the brutality they too endure.
So perhaps Hostiles is way more accurate homage than commentary, but that in itself will find an audience regardless of the misgivings it already inspires in the trailer alone. Hostiles arrives in theaters December 22nd.