I love westerns about wagon trains, cattle rustlers, gunslingers and the battle for land rights.
But Hostiles is a western that takes us down a less trodden track.
It examines the emotional impact and personal turmoil experienced by Captain Joe Blocker, who is stationed at a remote army outpost in New Mexico, 1892.
After years of battling the Native American nations and taking land from the Comanche, Apache and Cheyenne, Joe is about to retire from active service.
In today’s parlance, he has post traumatic stress disorder.
His exit from the army will not be smooth.
His final directive is to escort aging Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk, his sworn enemy, to his home in the Valley of the Bears, Montana.
Even today, trekking from New Mexico to Montana is a long journey.
In 1892, on horseback, travelling across inhospitable terrain and the possibility of encountering hostile indigenous populations, the journey takes on monumental proportions.
It allows both Captain Blocker and Chief Yellow Hawk to reflect on their respective paths across decades of hostility.
Blocker despises Yellow Hawk, who is the embodiment of everything Blocker hates.
Chief Yellow Hawk defended his homelands; Captain Blocker followed orders to subdue what the soldiers called “wretched savages”.
As the journey progresses, we discover both men committed atrocities.
The outward physical sojourn from New Mexico to Montana becomes a trip to their inner core, as they come to terms with what they have done and how they are closer to one another as human beings than they outwardly appear.
The film’s title is deliberately ambiguous. They are all hostile in their own ways.
Sometimes the film becomes ponderous and states its point about human savagery with a clear reference to the contemporary situation in the United States.
As an audience, we get it: we don’t need to be lectured.
Yellow Hawk’s representation of Native American’s plight is also underplayed.
The trek by our band of travellers across the sprawling wilderness is clearly a metaphor for Chief Yellow Hawk and Captain Blocker’s internal journey.
There is violence explosively and explicitly on screen.
The rest of the time is a slow contemplation of human behaviour, which means if you want gunfights at the OK Corral and cattle rustlers, you might have to revisit other westerns because Hostiles is potent but more subdued in its approach.