Christian Bale mopes across the West in ‘Hostiles’

Christian Bale (left) ponders the existential dread of the Old West.

Two and a half stars

HOSTILES Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Rory Cochrane. Directed by Scott Cooper. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.

Hostiles begins with a baby getting shot in the head, and things don’t get more pleasant from there. Scott Cooper’s grim, punishing Western is all about the toll frontier life takes on those who live it, whether by choice or by force or by circumstance. In particular, it’s about Christian Bale’s Capt. Joseph Blocker, a U.S. Army officer known for his ruthless pursuit and elimination of hostile Native Americans, which has left him a broken man communicating primarily in mumbles and grunts. Bale is one of the best actors at playing mumbly and grunty, but his Joseph is more surly than soulful, even as he forges a connection with Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), the pioneer woman whose entire family was slaughtered at the beginning of the movie.

Rosalie is a tag-along on Joseph’s mission to return a captive Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) to his tribal homeland, a journey that allows Joseph to meditate on the inner humanity of the people he previously dispatched mercilessly. It’s a simplistic emotional arc that Cooper portrays with maximum self-importance, running the characters through increasingly brutal and unpleasant territory on their way to a stark, bleak destination, with just a tiny ray of hope at the end.

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