by Justin Johnson

“A Masterpiece!” That’s how a friend described Hostiles after the screening and I couldn’t agree more. The movie is rated R, but the R rating is appropriately used to advance the story in a meaningful way. That is to say, there is no gratuitousness to its rating. So often today we see an R rating used to push the envelope of what is acceptable violence, nudity, and language. So counter culture is it to dial back the onscreen violence or language but this movie does and in taking this approach brings a depth to the story. This does not mean you won’t cringe at some scenes, one in particular where our heroine is hiding from Indian raiders leaves you with a palpable fear. That is also not to say there is not some harsh language and brutal violence, just that its done in an artistic way to advance the story, not to see how much gore and cringe worthy moments can be put onscreen. I comment on the rating to start because I am agreeing with some colleagues that for more mature kids, this movie can stand out as a worthy conversation piece and the R rating should not push you away from seeing this work of art.

Why this movie can be used as such a useful conversation piece is because the depth of story combined with such meaningful character development leaves the audience with much to consider and digest. This is not a sit back and turn your mind off type of movie. If you want a gunslinger western, go enjoy Tombstone or 3:10 to Yuma. If you want one of the best westerns to grace the screen in ages that leaves you wanting a second viewing to digest all the details, Hostiles is your movie. I will offer a very short synopsis as to not spoil anything. Christian Bale (with a definite academy award worthy performance) plays an army captain who has spent his career battling the Indians on behalf of American advancement. At the end of his career, he is charged with taking one of the most notorious Indian Chiefs from his prison in New Mexico back to his homeland in Montana to die in peace. Inside this short synopsis is a story arc that deserves an academy award for writing. The moral dilemmas our characters face which advance their story, the values which are questioned both of historical and modern nature such as forgiveness, greed, and friendship serve to give this movie my highest rating. Tackling topics such as ethnicity, feminism, and American freedom with grace and tact, Hostiles truly brings an instant American classic to the screen.

Another noteworthy achievement is the cinematography and its use of the New Mexico landscape.   Many more movies are being filmed in New Mexico as of late, but this one stands out for its use of the landscape almost paying homage to the history it holds. In addition to the landscape, there are scenes of silence where body language and facial expressions are caught in such vivid detail that a story emerges from stillness.   The movie is about the journey, not only the slow journey of our cast across the Western Frontier with all its beauty, but the journey each character takes as a result of the trek. These elements interplay throughout the film and by the end when our story arc closes, you will be left wanting more. I can understand that some people may feel that redemption was offered too easily, or that past sins were not appropriately atoned for, but I think these elements just add to the conversation intended by this film.

Being true to the times, scripture is referred to often and again in such a worthy manner. When our lead is asked if he believes in the Lord, he replies in the affirmative but recognizes that God must have turned his back on what is happening “out here.” This results in a challenge of faith, how can some believe in a God among such violence and brutality in the name of advancement? When one character who has suffered through death, loss, and much more is put to that question, their reply is simple, I have to stand upon my faith even more in such times as these. You will be challenged, you will be hit hard with questions that cause you to think about our history and where we are going as a society. And in the end, I think you will agree with me, this is one of the best movies you have seen in a very long time.

7 out of 7 – Rated R for violence, language, and adult situations and as mentioned previously the movie uses these elements only to advance the story arc and does so meaningfully (no nudity at all). A worthy conversation piece that will likely leave you breathless, both because of its artistry and because of the energy taken from you as you take the journey with Hostiles.