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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Hostiles

“The Maze Runner: The Death Cure” and “Dear Dictator” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

“Hostiles” is bookended by a tragic, yet all too true occurrence in the days of the frontier in the United States of America. This occurrence is the wholesale slaughter of entire families. For pioneer Wesley Quaid (Scott Shepherd), the slaughter is unprovoked and undeserved. He and his family are merely living their quiet, humble, peaceful existence when a vicious group of Comanche ride in to take their horses. For Cyrus Lounde (Scott Wilson), the reason is different. He and his three sons wind up dead due to Cyrus’s foolish pride in disobeying an order from the federal government.

The journey we take in “Hostiles” from the Quaids to the Loundes is the meat of the movie. This journey is led by Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale). He’s ready to retire after twenty-five years of service, and not a moment too soon. He’s battle-hardened and war weary. Bale’s performance is soft-spoken and low key. Yet he is forceful and sure of his convictions when the situation calls for it. The sense given is that buried deep inside of Blocker is a raging storm just waiting to be let loose, and anyone in the way had better watch out.

This rage is, by and large, directed at the Native American tribes he fought for so many years. One of his captive foes, Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), has contracted cancer. It’s up to Blocker and his small party of soldiers to escort Yellow Hawk and his family from New Mexico to Montana, where Yellow Hawk desires to spend his last days before passing away.

This is a trip fraught with many dangers, and “Hostiles” certainly earns its name. Blocker and company’s first stop is the Quaid homestead, which is burned down to its skeletal frame. In it sits Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), the lone survivor of the assault on her family. She is distraught and psychologically traumatized by what happened to her family, unable to let them go. The moment she does, Pike lets out one of the most heartbreaking and sorrowful sounds of anguish ever committed to film.

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Rosalie Quaid and Captain Blocker are an interesting pair. Both are psychologically scarred, emotionally damaged people. The key difference between them is that Blocker’s wounds have existed for years, and he has learned to live with them. Rosalie’s wounds are fresh. Part of her process in this journey with Blocker is learning to live with what happened to her. She also brings out another, unexpected side of Blocker that reveals that underneath the rough, tough, cold exterior, he is a man of tremendous understanding and compassion. This takes him from someone who would otherwise be nothing but aloof and stoic to a remarkably balanced and well-rounded character.

As is common with many of the best classic westerns (“Red River” and “The Searchers” come to mind in particular), the land is just as much of a character as the people. “Hostiles” was filmed in the thankfully still well-preserved and beautiful wilderness of New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. This is an absolutely stunning movie to behold, particularly in the long shots. One of the notes I made about this movie is that legendary movie director John Ford would have loved it. Between the story, the characters, and the setting, “Hostiles” is like a tribute to him. Hey, if you’re going to pay tribute, it should be to the best. Buy it.

Also New This Week

The Mazer Runner: The Death Cure

Never before in my movie watching history have I gotten to the third movie of a trilogy and cared so incredibly little about it. The first “Maze Runner” movie from 2014 was incredibly fresh and innovative. I liked it a lot. Then the second one, subtitled “The Scorch Trials,” came out and I thought it was blasé beyond belief. Now we have “The Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” which is the third and thankfully final movie in this trilogy in which Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) fights the WCKD corporation (could that name be any more on the nose?) and their head honchos Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and Janson (Aidan Gillen).

Part of the issue with “The Death Cure” is that the last movie came out three years ago and I didn’t like it enough to watch it again and brush up on who’s who. Therefore, when we re-connected with Gally (Will Poulter), who we thought was dead, or saw the traitorous Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), who Thomas still crushes on, I didn’t care. Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) makes a surprising revelation that is supposed to be a huge, dramatic shocker. I didn’t care. Minho (Ki Hong Lee) is held captive by WCKD and tortured in an effort to find the cure. I honestly didn’t remember this character at all from the previous movies, was not emotionally invested in the slightest, and really didn’t care.

All of this lack of remembering on my part could have easily been dealt with if “The Death Cure” was the least bit engaging or interesting, like the first movie. Instead, we get the usual clichés (hero doesn’t want his friends to join him on his quest but they do anyway, good guys rarely miss their targets while highly trained bad guys can’t hit the broad side of a barn) and implausible action set pieces. I thought it might go somewhere extra bleak and therefore different and compelling at the end, but nope—it wraps up in a fairly conventional way. On the bright side, at least the makers of “The Maze Runner” series learned a lesson from what happened with the last movie in the “Divergent” series, in which we’re not getting a part 2 to finish it off, and they broke YA novel adaptation tradition by making just one movie out of the final book. This is a welcome change for YA adaptations to come, and a smart move on the part of the producers for “The Maze Runner.” I’m pretty sure I don’t care enough about this world or these characters to watch another movie in this series, even if there was one. Skip it.

Dear Dictator

I really don’t have much to say about “Dear Dictator” except that it’s not the movie I thought it was going to be. The description makes it sound like a corrupt British-Caribbean dictator named General Anton Vincent (Michael Caine) gets ousted and seeks refuge with a teenager in the United States named Tatiana (Odeya Rush) with whom he is pen pals. Tatiana is an outcast at odds with the “mean girls” in her school, and Vincent teaches her his communist insurgence tactics to defeat them and take control.

This comprises maybe one-fifth of the movie. The bulk of the movie is about Anton hiding out in Tatiana’s garage, bonding with her and her mother (Katie Holmes), and going on the Internet to find ways to take power back in his country. While I do appreciate the way “Dear Dicatator” outlines the negativity, deceit, and corruption in the communist ideology, the movie is way less funny and more melodramatic than I thought it would be, particularly since it is billed as a comedy. On the bright side, the Subway sandwich chain gets some good publicity. Stream it.

More New Releases: “Paddington 2,” about the beloved British bear’s (voice of Ben Whishaw) search for a stolen present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday that he worked so hard to buy, co-starring Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, and Julie Walters; and “Backstabbing for Beginners,” about a young program coordinator at the United Nations who stumbles upon a conspiracy involving Iraq's oil reserves, starring Theo James, Jacqueline Bisset, and Ben Kingsley.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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