Hostiles Movie Review: History Told Honestly

History is not black or white, nor is it propaganda. History is ambiguous if told honestly.
— Stephen Ambrose, Crazy Horse and Custer

I've been wary of getting excited about westerns since seeing the Revenant. I read that book and loved it, couldn't wait for the movie to come out. When I saw it I couldn't have been more disappointed. It was a fairy tale that claimed to be based on a true story. The only thing true about that movie was that the Hugh Glass was attacked by a bear. 

So when the trailer came out for the Hostiles I thought it looked great but I wasn't going to get to excited. In today's social justice world you never know what your going to end up seeing. It seems their is an agenda behind everything. 

I fancy myself a history buff, not a historian, but someone who's read enough books to know if things could've or would've happened. Because of that I think I watch movies, like the Revenant, a little different than most people. Since the Hostiles is a fictional story its not about if it did happen but if it could've or would've it happened, and for all of the major events in the movie I think the answer is yes. 

The story is the tale of how Captain Joe Blocker was ordered to take Cheyenne Chief Yellow Tail and his family from a fort in New Mexico to his home land in Montana in 1892. I don't know that anything like this ever happened, but at a time when treaty negotiations were happening the idea of the President allowing a Chief to visit his homelands one last time as an act of good will is not hard to believe. Needless to say the trip did not go as planned. It is really just one catastrophe after another with moments of somber reflecting in between. I loved every bit of it. The historical accuracy, the characters, everything was just extremely well done. If there is one complaint, I felt like if you didn't know that, that trip would have taken weeks, perhaps months you may have felt like it all happened in a week.

The movie visits some interesting historical issues that the old westerns didn't get into. Ones that when compared to todays world of PTSD awareness were completely ignored back then. Can you imagine being ordered to murder women and children and then carrying it out? In the movie it is revealed that Blocker and a couple of his companions were at Wounded Knee and did these things. It did a great job of exploring what carrying those memories combined with the memories of seeing your friends scalped and mutilated by Indians must've been like. The movie shows how both the Indians and the Soldiers had plenty of reasons to hate and murder each other, while also showing that hate doesn't have to last forever. 

The Indian wars were the most complicated conflict in U.S. history. People that try to simplify it into stealing land or murdering savages are just ignorant. Unfortunately they are also all to excited to spread their ignorance to advance their own ideas (The Revenant.) The best description of this comes from Stephen Ambrose in the book Crazy Horse and Custer, "Despite the hundreds of books by Indian lovers denouncing the government and making whites ashamed of their ancestors, and despite the equally prolific literary effort on the part of the defenders of the Army, here if anywhere is a case where it is impossible to tell right from wrong." If you don't believe that then you haven't studied the subject, or you just want to shape it into your own ideas, to which Ambrose also addresses, "History is not black or white nor is it propaganda. History is ambiguous if told honestly." Hostiles is told honestly.

Jim MundorfComment