While he is now focusing on the western, the quintessential American genre, Scott Cooper seems about to meet critics and spectators. Is right, as the director deploys here all the extent of his talent and his formidable mastery, to narrate the terrible journey of an officer of the American army (Christian Bale) in charge of escorting a dying Indian chief (Wes Studi). Two men who have clashed their lives and who are summoned, after decades of massacres, to look each other in the face and bury the hatchet.
Characters confronted with the violence of the historic American heart
Hostiles use this starting point to probe the roots of the American nation, flawed, blood-soaked foundations. To support his point, Scott Cooper presents the murder, not to say the massacre, as a founding ritual act of American mysticism. Spilling blood here becomes the only medium for men, as evidenced by the first sequence where the two characters are united in the same shot, thanks to a Comanche attack which sees them kill together for the first time.
The film thus knows how to summon an impressive know-how in terms of iconography and listening. Whether the camera scrutinizes the devastated faces of the characters or explores the grandiose natural spaces where his fatal story unfolds, Hostiles is driven by a power that is sometimes intimate, sometimes tragic, which grips the guts. The devastating impact of the final footage shot, the spleen ravaging the ruined face of Christian Bale, is perhaps the most vivid witness of the impeccable economy of means demonstrated by the work.
Rosamund Pike, exceptional
However, as powerful and cinematic as this story is, however delightful the energy diffused by this impeccable western, the feeling that the filmmaker is watching himself a little too much here and there. He wants to do well, and seems in places to let himself be muzzled by the ambition of this column, by the spirit of seriousness conveyed by the seriousness of the subject. Scott Cooper’s mastery of dramaturgy is indisputable, almost always hits the mark, but here and there borders on rigidity, as if this skewer of remarkable performances was occasionally transformed into a hair shirt.
This is evidenced by the overall tone, which here stifles the artist’s finest quality, namely his ability to blend genres. The Infernos of Wrath was a fake redneck drama where a great apocalyptic tragedy bubbled up, while Strictly Criminal made up a pure Hammerien monster movie as a period thriller. Hostiles is an excellent western, but the feeling that the director is forbidding himself to hybridize this raw material is gradually growing. A stiffness which never extinguishes the flame of anger which illuminates the whole, but deprives it a little of its organic dimension.