Since his low-key, low-expectations debut, the Jeff Bridges diversion Crazy Heart (2009), Scott Cooper has specialized in thoughtful, actor-driven, for-adults Hollywood genre fare: a Deer Hunter–lite Rust Belt saga of brothers and blood (2013’s Out of the Furnace); a vicious tale of Boston gangsterdom (2015’s Black Mass). This is an underserved sphere. But Cooper has yet to elevate his sensibility beyond a choked, self-inhibiting intensity.
Grave and somber, Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles” opens with a scene that recalls John Ford’s “The Searchers.” In 1892 New Mexico, a family of homesteaders—mom, dad, three kids—are going about their business when Comanche warriors thunder toward their ranch. Grabbing a rifle to defend his family, the father is cut down and scalped first. Before setting fire to the ranch, the Natives go after the rest of the family and kill all the kids. Only the mother survives by hiding in the woods.