If you like classic Westerns, love and hate John Wayne in The Searchers, consider The last of the Mohicans a milestone of mythic American literature, don’t miss Hostiles. It is a quintessential Western movie, full of violence and hate, of understanding and hidden love, of fear and racial hatred, of courage and ethnic mixture, an on-the-road symbolic voyage from hardness to tenderness amid the stunning westerns wilderness. It combines the good-WASP-bad-Indian stance of classical Western with the sixties’ revisionist attitude.
In 1892, Wesley Quaid and his family are attacked by a Comanche war party who proceed to kill and scalp him and kill his three children, but his wife Rosalie manages to escape capture, hiding in a thicket. In Fort Berringer, New Mexico, Captain Joseph Blocker rounds up an escaping Apache family and brings them to the fort. He is then called to the office of Colonel Abraham Biggs, who informs him of his final orders before retirement, direct from the President: escort dying Cheyenne war chief, Yellow Hawk, and his family back to their tribal lands in Montana. He reluctantly accepts, facing a court-martial if he doesn’t, despite his history with the chief, including the murders of several friends. He chooses a detail to accompany him: Private “Frenchie” DeJardin, the youngest; Lieutenant Kidder, fresh from West Point; old friend 1st Sergeant Thomas Metz; and Corporal Woodson, a Buffalo Soldier.
They begin their journey but diverge from their path to investigate the charred Quaid house. Inside they find the emotionally scarred Rosalie, who, though initially hostile towards the Cheyenne family because of the previous attack, agrees to sleep in their camp after coaxing from Blocker. She buries her family, and the next day accompanies Blocker and his detail on their journey. They are soon ambushed by the Comanche party, who kill Frenchie and critically wound Woodson, although he survives. After this event, Yellow Hawk convinces Blocker that it is in his best interest to unchain him and his family. The next day, the bodies of the surviving Comanche party, who had fled the day before, are discovered dead. Blocker deduces that Yellow Hawk and his son, Black Hawk, killed them.
After a brief stop in Colorado to drop off Woodson and Rosalie, Blocker is instructed to take disgraced Sgt. Charles Wills to be court-martialed and hanged at a stop along the way to Montana. Joining Blocker’s company to oversee Wills’s hanging are Corporal Tommy Thomas and Sergeant Malloy. Meanwhile, Rosalie decides to continue on with Blocker, despite being offered a place to stay in Colorado until Christmas. One night, the women are abducted by three fur traders as they wash dishes in the stream by their camp. The company, assisted by Yellow Hawk and Black Hawk, manage to track down the fur traders and slaughter them as they rescue the women, although Sergeant Malloy is killed. During a downpour, Wills manages to fool Kidder into sympathetically undoing his chains, only to kill him and escape the company. He is later tracked down and killed by 1st Sergeant Metz, who then takes his own life, succumbing to decades of PTSD.
Blocker arrives with the dying chief at his tribal lands in Montana where he dies and is buried. The landowner arrives as the chief is buried and threatens to kill Blocker and the rest of the group for burying an Indian on his land. Blocker tells the landowner that the chief is not leaving the land, which results in a gun battle that kills Black Hawk, his wife Elk Woman, and his sister Moon Deer, as well as Corporal Tommy Thomas—leaving only Blocker, Rosalie, and Little Bear alive. In the final scene, Rosalie and Little Bear reluctantly depart on a train from Montana to Chicago, without Blocker, but at the last second Blocker jumps on the back of the train to start a life with the two.
Like inThe last of the Mohicans, the voyage to fulfil the mission is also a moral odyssey. The former Redskins’ slaughterer, Captain Joseph Blocker, still full of hatred towards the natives, and the tough, stoic, palefaces’ slaughterer Yellow Hawk end up like friends, like Chingachgook and Natty Bumpo. Bad Indians straight out of classical Westerns, violent rapist white trappers, landowners whose only law is the one established by their guns provoke climatic episodes of violence that make the protagonists’ relationship shift from hate to friendship and mutual acceptance and understanding. Male genre par excellence, a modern version of Cora must necessarily be part of the plot: Rosalie Quaid, in fact, is a damsel-in-distress who will replace her former family, exterminated by the Comanches, with an improbable adopted Indian son and Captain Joseph Blocker himself (who picked her up along the way) as husband, an inter-racial proto-family unconceivable in the beginning of the movie. In his atavic hate for the Redskins, Captain Joseph Blocker is a modern version of Ethan Edwards. It is as if Captain Joseph Blocker carried on Waynes’ conversion which began in the climactic scene in The Searchers: Wayne finally accepts his nephew, whom he has spent the life searching for, even if she has turned half Indian.
The movie is full of toughness, stoicism and a few words, like Westerns should be. And of course it very symbolic of today’s America, in which Muslims and immigrants are like the new feared and hated Natives of the old days.