Truth comes in many coats. It can wear a flashy affair, show off everything so much that you resent it for being. It can be subtle, a simple thing in dress and cover that makes a statement. Then it's flat out in a uniform, badges and worn edges telling a tale of long ago ideals and dreams. Hostiles tells a simple truth using uniforms and dress that the old west was less than a simple affair.
Captain Joe (Bale) is about to retire, getting away from his native killing ways in the wilds of Colorado. He's got one last job, however, to escort Chief Yellow Hawk (Studi) and his family to their native lands in Montana so the chief can die. Along the way, they pick up a Rosalie Quaid (Pike), a woman who has lost her family to native attack and face many other hardships.
One of the staples of the western genre is long, sweeping shots of prairies, canyons, and just lots and lots of land. Preferably with a single rider or group of folks riding horses across that land. In that respect, Hostiles succeeds beautifully. The camera sweeps and cranes and pulls in all the wonderful sights of the west.
Another staple is conflicted men and women. Everyone here fills that role, acting to the best of their ability. No one pulls out a stellar performance but no one really flubs their part either. Affecting and at times heartbreaking, the ensemble should be commended in bringing to life these tortured creatures.
That the plot and writing fall short is that much more apparent with these stand out visuals and actors. The characters seem to stumble across one another, trouble happening right on cue rather that with a sense of drama or suspense. Death is cheap for several characters, seemingly passed off with a shrug and a burial scene. No memorable lines stand out in the writing except one, and that's because it was lifted damn near whole from Unforgiven, breaking the cardinal rule of writing: don't remind me of a story better told than yours.
If this movie sticks around in the lexicon for a while, which I doubt, it will become the premier example of a TBS hangover movie. Save your money and watch it on the couch in a Sunday afternoon recovery session.