Hostiles (2018) Review and Analysis: Resurgence of the Western

The recent release of Hostiles starring legendary actor Christian Bale has brought the Western back into current cinematic consciousness and reminded us once again of the great dramatic and cinematic power inherent in the Western and its ability to appeal to audiences all around the globe and transcend geographic and cultural differences.

Where Hostiles succeeds is in its focus on the characters of the film and exploring the internal dynamics of a variety of personalities and archetypes. The film is carried primarily by the characters of Joseph and Rosalie who are unified by the phenomenon of Theodicy, albeit at opposing sides. Joseph is a man hardened by the brutal life on the American frontier and has great contempt for the Indians and committed great injustice against these peoples and is thus a perpetrator. On the other hand, Rosalie is a victim of injustice as a rogue Indian tribe murders her family and destroy her life and plunges into a difficult existential predicament. This makes the crossing of paths all the more interesting between these two characters; the are both united by this common theme of Theodicy despite their apparently unrelated circumstances. Both of them grapple with the viciousness they encounter and experience on the frontier and its relationship to God and how they are to deal with this mysterious phenomenon. It is rare to find a mainstream Hollywood give a positive account of religion, particularly Christianity, and even rarer to have a movie take on complex and deep phenomenon such as Theodicy and do it intelligently.

However, it is interesting to see how slow, intelligent films will fare in the near future, particularly Westerns,  as Disney blockbusters saturate the market and audiences increasingly turn to streaming services like Netflix. The box office failure of Bladerunner 2049 will certainly be on the minds of directors and studios as they consider whether such projects are worth investing time and capital in and whether audiences will appreciate their approach to story telling. Time will only tell but if the current state of affairs is anything to go by then the future is looking very bleak.


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