Photography: TIFF

Audiences and critics respond enthusiastically to the gritty western starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, and Wes Studi.

The advance buzz is loud and getting louder for Hostiles, the gritty new western that had its world premiere this past weekend during the prestigious Telluride Film Festival. Indeed, according to Variety and Deadline.com, several distributors have expressed serious interest in releasing the film — perhaps as early as the fourth quarter of 2017 — after gauging the positive audience and critical reaction at the Colorado fest.

Directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Black Mass), Hostiles tells the story of Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), a legendary Army captain who, after stern resistance, begrudgingly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to tribal lands. While making the harrowing and perilous journey from an isolated New Mexico outpost to the grasslands of Montana, the former rivals encounter a young widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was murdered on the plains. Together, they must join forces to overcome the punishing landscape and hostile Comanche tribes that they encounter along the way.

“The whole thing is pure and respectful western cinema,” wrote Pete Hammond of Deadline.com, “and Cooper absolutely knows what he is doing in this milieu. It also has some strong socially conscious themes running through it that will help it speak to contemporary audiences whether they are fans of the genre or not. It helps to have Bale on board, who is comfortable in this environment, having previously been seen in the well-received 2007 remake of 3:10 To Yuma.

Kristopher Tapley of Variety praised Hostiles asa potent, muscular western — made with an independent spirit outside the studio system,” and noted that, should the film be released theatrically before the end of 2017, Christian Bale could emerge as a major Best Actor contender in next year’s Oscar race.

“Also a stand-out,” Tapley added, “is Rosamund Pike as a forthright woman who violently suffers loss in the film’s opening moments. Masanobu Takayanagi’s beautiful landscape photography and expressive interior lighting further establish the cinematographer as Cooper’s vital secret weapon, while Max Richter’s elegiac score adds considerably to the emotional heft of the picture. Nominations for all are on the table. But, again, it depends on who acquires the film.

“Everyone from Annapurna Pictures to Netflix is rumored to be in the mix, and it’s clear Tom Bernard and Michael Barker at Sony Pictures Classics are interested, too. ... None of the sales agents are in town, however, and Telluride isn’t an acquisitions festival anyway, so don’t expect any movement until [Hostiles is screened at the Toronto Film Festival], perhaps as early as next week.”

Many of the reviews filed out of Telluride for Hostiles have been enthusiastic raves. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter wrote:

“The specter of sudden and brutal death hangs over everyone all the time in Hostiles, a mournful, sorrowful, persistently powerful western set in a world of beauty, tears and blood. There’s little new that writer-director Scott Cooper, in his fourth and best feature, can really add to what other films have said about the terrible inevitabilities embedded in the epic story of the settling of America’s frontier. But potent dramatic dynamics and the filmmaker’s self-evident deep immersion and investment in his material enrich this vivid account of the last spasms of Native American resistance in the 1890s. ...

“Contemplative and absorbing rather than rip-roaring and exciting, the film will likely play better to western connoisseurs than to general and younger audiences, but it’s an estimable piece of work grounded by a fine-grain sensibility and an expertly judged lead performance.”

Sasha Stone of The Wrap echoed McCarthy’s sentiments:

“The western keeps reinventing itself. Each generation finds its own way of adapting the genre to reflect our country’s social evolution and gradual enlightenment through a mechanism that is uniquely and wholly American. From John Ford to Sam Peckinpah, Robert Altman to Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner to Quentin Tarantino. From the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men to Iñárritu’s The Revenant, the genre lends itself and bends itself to a continual rumination on redefining the Great American hero. Scott Cooper’s Hostiles might well become this generation’s definitive western for the way it embraces the genre’s traditions while coming to grips with the inescapable admission of our own war crimes. ...

“Hostiles, filmed amid endless horizons in the glory of the natural world, is beautifully lensed by Masanobu Takayanagi. ... It features another standout performance by Wes Studi as Chief Yellow Hawk. [Rosamund] Pike is marvelous in her pivotal supporting turn. Ultimately, though, the film’s main artery is [Christian] Bale, whose character undergoes an impossibly wide range of changes throughout the course of the film.”

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