Scott Cooper

Hostiles

05/01/18

It’s often been said that, in times of political uncertainty, Hollywood revisits the Western – and it’s certainly true that this once moribund genre has recently enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, not least through Netflix’s superb series, Godless, which offers a refreshingly feminist view on the subject. Scott Cooper’s bleak and savage vision of the Old West seems designed primarily to remind us what an unpleasant era it was in which to eke an existence. Which is not to say that it isn’t a fascinating film. It is – even if it occasionally makes for uncomfortable viewing.

The film starts in New Mexico in 1892, towards the end of the infamous ‘Indian Wars.’ Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), a seasoned cavalry officer, finds himself presented with an assignment he really doesn’t relish. He is to escort his old adversary, a captive Cheyenne warrior called Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), to Montana. The old man is stricken with cancer and wants to return to his ancestral burial grounds to end his life. Blocker makes no secret of the fact that he hates Yellow Hawk and has no intention of burying an axe unless it’s in the back of the old man’s head, but the US President has decreed that he must fulfil his obligations, so he rounds up a detachment of men and sets off on the long and arduous journey. (Watch out for a cameo role from young Timothee Chalomet currently being talked up as a potential  Oscar contender for his role in  Call Me By Your Name.)

Soon, Blocker and his men stumble across a harrowing tragedy in the shape of Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), who has just witnessed her entire family being massacred by a Comanche war party. Blocker has no option but to take the widow along for the ride, hoping that he can drop her off somewhere safe along the way… but as the journey progresses and a series of disasters unfold, it becomes clear that Blocker and Quaid’s  lives are to become inextricably entangled.

Cooper paints an unpleasant picture of the West: a world where gunfire and rape seem to lurk around every corner; where most of Cooper’s men are suffering from what was then called ‘the melancholy’ but which we now label as PTSD; where irrational hatred begets ever more hatred; and where women are seen as a commodity to be taken and used at any man’s whim. Bale is excellent in the central role, managing to convey his internal agony with little more than a look and a shrug – whilst Pike, whose character goes through a living hell in this film, is also memorable.

More than anything else though, the film serves as a comment on what’s happening in Trump’s America right now. It helps you to understand the entrenched Republican values that makes Americans so resolute on the right to bear arms – and why the country is inevitably heading for such devastating sorrows.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Advertisements

Black Mass

MV5BNzg0ODI3NDQxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzgzNDA0NjE@._V1_SX214_AL_

25/11/15

Time was, when Johnny Depp’s name attached to a movie could be interpreted as a guarantee of quality, but to be fair, it’s been a while since that maxim held true. A once keen ability to pick the right project has lately foundered amidst a welter of vanity puff-pieces. So it’s heartening to report that Black Mass is a major step in the right direction, with Depp submitting his best performance in a very long time.

Here, he’s depicting real life  villain James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, a career criminal who operated successfully around his home town of Boston over a period of thirty years, largely because his brother, Bobby, was a senator and his best friend, John Connolly,  an FBI agent. Bulger cannily formed an ‘alliance’ with Connolly, trading inside information on his rivals to ensure that he could operate his web of vice and murder with complete impunity.

Depp has worked hard to make himself look unattractive – complete with thinning hair, bad teeth and pale blue eyes, he’s hardly recognisable as his former self. Initial fears that this is simply going to be a ‘makeup led’ performance are soon quashed, as he submits a convincing turn as a repellent psychopath, a man who can skip from helping an old lady with her shopping, to shooting a man point blank in the face, without raising so much as an eyebrow.

There’s a lot of unflinching violence on show here, but its matched by a sharp script by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth and there’s the added bonus of a supporting cast to die for – Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sargaard… Seriously, there’s enough talent on show here to fill several movies; but there’s no denying that this is Depp’s film and he has a field day with it.

Like many real life stories, if presented as a piece of fiction, this would seem unlikely. Stay in your seat for the closing credits which offer glimpses of the real protagonists and we’re finally able to fully appreciate the lengths to which director Scott Cooper has gone to ensure that his actors resemble the major players.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney