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dir-scr Scott Cooper
prd Scott Cooper, Ken Kao, John Lesher
with Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Peter Mullan, Paul Anderson, Timothee Chalamet, Stephen Lang, Q'orianka Kilcher
release US 22.Dec.17, UK 5.Jan.18
This is my country: Studi and Bale
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
There's a growling undercurrent to this finely crafted Western that makes it almost frighteningly resonant. At its core, this is a provocative exploration of deep-seated racism, and filmmaker Scott Cooper digs into the dark heart of his central character, who's played with gruff intensity by Christian Bale. The film powerfully faces down this grim, pivotal chapter in America's history, adding authenticity and grit to a familiar genre.
In 1892 New Mexico, Captain Joseph (Bale) is leading the violent suppression of Native Americans, so he's not too happy when his commander (Lang) orders him to accompany Chief Yellow Hawk (Studi) and his family back home to Montana after they have spent seven years in a government prison. As this entourage travels, they meet Rosalie (Pike), traumatised after her family was massacred by rogue Comanches who may now be stalking them. Then in Colorado, Joseph's friend (Mullan) asks him to go slightly out of the way to transport a violent criminal (Foster).
Cooper's approach makes terrific use of silence to build some properly harrowing emotional subtext. This may be a relentlessly harsh story, but the internalised perspectives make it strongly involving. And the way the situations are shot and played makes them almost unnervingly realistic. The film's epic scale sometimes feels a bit meandering as it traverses the West from south to north with an array of attacks and conflicts, but everything that happens along the road adds to the sense that there is a possibility for redemption even after the worst injustice.
Each of the actors brings a haunted quality to his or her role, lending an earthy authenticity to the whispery-mumbly dialog. Bale is excellent as the conflicted soldier whose racially-fuelled attitudes are far more complex than expected. Where he finds himself at the end is darkly moving. Pike gives the film a wounded, yearning soulfulness, while Studi provides a steady blend of dignity and outrage. And the smaller side roles make impact on the larger narrative, with vivid acting all around.
This beautifully made Western is directed by Cooper to be artful and truthful, augmented by Masanobu Takayanagi's edgy cinematography and Max Richter's moody score. It's also a rare film that wrestles both with history and the way we have told these kinds of stories in more than a century of movies that drew simplistic lines between heroes and villains. And just as importantly, it shines an unflinching light on the appalling way European Americans have treated natives and fellow immigrants.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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