January 8, 2018 – This is a road (trail) film set in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana in 1841. Captain Joseph J. Blocker (played by Christian Bale of the “Batman” movies) is ordered to escort a dying prisoner, Chief Yellow Hawk (played by Wes Studi of “Sugar”) and his family north from New Mexico to Montana.
The problem is that Blocker and the Chief are old enemies. They fought against each other and they killed each other's friends. Blocker, who is about to retire, refuses the order, but very reluctantly accepts the assignment when threatened with court martial and loss of his pension. Despite his prejudices, he is a good soldier and is trusted to successfully complete his mission.
The party heads north where they run across a burned out ranch, which had been attacked by hostiles. A deadly band of Comanches kill a man and two children for the horses at the ranch, seen in the opening scene of the film. Only Rosalie Quaid (played by Rosamund Pike of “Gone Girl”) survives the attack, but is almost driven insane from shock and sorrow. Blocker shows great compassion and patience dealing with her.
The Chief warns Blocker that the Comanches will return to attack his party. He advises Blocker to remove the chains from him and his son, Black Hawk (Adam Beach of “Suicide Squad”) so they can help fight the hostiles. Blocker refuses, believing his men can handle the situation.
The hostiles do attack, and though chained, the Chief and his son do fight effectively and help to fight off the attackers. But there is a cost. Some of Blocker's small force are killed or badly wounded. Again, Black Cloud and the Chief ask to be unchained. At first Blocker refuses, but the Chief makes a sound argument, and Blocker knows that the Chief knows what he is talking about. He orders the chains removed.
One of Blocker's men, Corp. Henry Woodsen (Jonathan Majors of the “When We Rise” mini-series) is badly wounded and is taken to a fort hospital to recover. There is an emotional parting scene between the two men at the hospital. Rosalie Quaid decides not to stay at the fort for months waiting for transportation onward. She continues on northward with Blocker's group.
One night at camp, Rosalie and the Chief's daughter are abducted by fur traders. Blocker and some of his men, along with the Chief and Black Hawk track down the traders and attack the traders, killing them and freeing the women. Blocker tells the Chief to stay behind, arguing that he is too old and sick to fight but the Chief insists, and Blocker agrees to let him join the attack on the kidnappers.
There is an unusual amount of violence on this journey as the small group is attacked again and again. By the time their journey is concluded, there are few left alive. Fighting on the same side for a change, Blocker and the Chief learn to depend on each other and respect one another. The film explores the emotional and moral cost of war on the men who fight it. Blocker thinks a lot about war, and spends a lot of time reading a book of Julius Caesar's writings.
This film has the virtues of the Western genre, wonderful scenery, action, lots of outdoor scenes. Most of it is filmed on location, not on stages, or in front of green screens. The action isn't digital, it is in-camera, real stunts. Westerns are versatile, you can use the genre to tell any kind of story about human relationships, including ones about racial hatred and the emotional scars of war.
There are wonderful performances in this film. The quiet dignity that Wes Studi brings to his character is key to making this story work, along with Christian Bale's portrayal of inner emotional conflicts and Rosamund Pike's searing grief and rage. The relationship between Blocker and Rosalie, which develops during the trip, is played with measured subtlety by Pike and Bale.
As violent, deadly and cruel as many characters are in this film, and as much hatred that is shown, there is also compassion, understanding and respect. Most of this film is shocking and depressing, but at the end, there seems to be hope, and maybe even happiness in the future of those who survive this long, dark, deadly journey. This film rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.