Captain Blocker (Bale) is a hugely conflicted soldier in the Old West. His colonel orders him to return a native Indian chief to Montana. He’s taunted by a journalist about his reputation for brutal treatment. Blocker then uses the Nazi defence for defending the indefensible. He says, ‘I was just doing my job’. The job being slaughter and scalping.
En route to Montana Blocker witnesses the outcome of an attack on a homestead with Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) as the sole survivor. She plays out a searing scene at the burial of her family. This is the only outstanding scene in the entire film. Rosalie joins Blocker’s detail despite being given the opportunity to stay in an isolated army camp.
There’s an excruciating dinnertime conversation discussing the point-of-view of native Indians who’ve had their land stolen and live in terrible conditions. This is stifled. The one black American soldier is severely wounded giving Blocker a chance at bedside emoting. A criminal soldier being taken back ‘to face your dues’ deceives a naive officer into releasing him and is then murdered. This scene is after the criminal tells Blocker that he could easily be in his position. Blocker doesn’t disagree. Rosalie take responsibility for a native Indian child showing her diversity training. Finally the chief is buried, with dignity and respect, immediately prior to Blocker defending his right to that burial against land-grabbers. They, using rugged individualism tropes, denounce the governments right to tell them what to do. Blocker, in essence, massacres them shooting their leader in the back before finishing him off with a brutal knife attack. He lets his presidential authorisation fall to the ground as if he agrees with them.
The inevitable happy ending avoids too much realism.
An alternative review is here: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/sep/12/hostiles-review-christian-bale-toronto-film-festival-tiff