The new movie Hostiles takes the audience back to 1892 for a story about learning compassion for your fellow human being, no matter who they are or what your view of them might be. Christian Bale stars as Capt. Joseph J. Blocker, a soldier on the frontier of New Mexico who’s given an assignment he doesn’t want: Transport Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to his tribal land in Montana before he dies.
Blocker has a long-standing hatred of Yellow Hawk and other Native Americans but reluctantly does his duty. As they travel they encounter Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), a widow who they offer to help and who joins their party. Through the trials and hardships they encounter along the way they all gain a respect and understanding for each other that challenges their previous beliefs. It’s a lesson we could all stand to hear again.
The poster sets up the conflict of the story and the dichotomy of the characters. Blocker is on one side looking in one direction while Yellow Hawk is on the other looking in the opposite direction. The split in the photo also divides scenes of tranquility and violence, with a peaceful farm on one side and a homestead overcome by fire on the other, clearly part of the same location and with a group of riders on horses leaving the area. “We are all…” is the only copy that leads into the title, showing there are no innocents or completely good people in the story.
A short first trailer starts off with Joseph talking about the hard life he and others have to live out on the frontier. Death is everywhere, we’re told by him and others as we see images of violence of all kinds being perpetrated without repercussions.
The next trailer, an official one, does more work to lay out the story of the movie, showing Blocker reluctantly taking on the job of returning Yellow Hawk to his native lands. That rubs him the wrong way since he has a personal grudge against native Americans, one rooted in the death of his family. But he’s going to do his duty even while he’s faced with one moral quandary after another in the execution of them.
It’s a tight, violent drama that’s being sold here, very much in the vein of Unforgiven and other modern Westerns. It’s better than the teaser for how it does more to explain what’s happening in the story and show off all the performances, not just Bale’s determined face.
Online and Social
After a brief loading image, the official website features a front page of full-screen video footage pulled from the trailer. A rotating series of positive quotes from early reviews is shown under the title while the bottom left has a prompt to sign up for email updates as well as links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
In the menu in the top right, the first section is “Story,” also available on its own in the bottom right corner of the front page, containing a brief synopsis. “Cast & Crew” just has photos of the cast and writer/director Scott Cooper but no other information beyond their name and their role.
There are 10 production stills in the “Gallery” while “Videos” has the primary trailer as well as a featurette where Cooper and others talk about the story. Finally, “Acclaim” has more quotes from critics praising the film.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
It doesn’t appear there was any advertising done, but it’s possible some executions have gone past me, particularly if they were specific to certain areas.
There was, though, this branded content feature in Variety on Cooper and how he finally brought his vision to life as well as working with the cast.
Media and Publicity
The movie was announced as one of those that would screen at the Toronto International Film Festival and at Telluride. Shortly after that, the first still of Bale was released.
Bale’s performance was the highlight of much of the buzz that came out of that Telluride screening, pegging him as a potential award nominee. A bit later the movie was finally picked up by Entertainment Studios and given a tentative release date designed to make sure Bale qualified for this year’s awards season.
The cast and Cooper engaged in various Q&As in the last month or so. Most covered the same territory as other media hits, such as this interview with Bale where he talked about his career and this story and this interview with Pike where she talked how she’s drawn to courageous, independent women in the roles she chooses.
While there are some good things about the campaign, it’s up against some stiff competition at the moment. Everything else hitting theaters right about now is either a big flashy event, light and low-calorie pop entertainment or a heavyweight prestige film. There’s nothing about the marketing here that puts it in any of those categories. Instead, it’s presented as a somber meditation on topics such as duty, honor, human kindness and death. That may not be the message audiences are looking for over the holiday or one they’ll react positively to.
That’s not to say it’s a bad campaign. There are some strong elements in the trailer and poster that sell the drama of the story effectively. You can rarely go wrong with a Bale performance. What’s puzzling is that for a story about seeing the world from someone else’s point of view, it’s only Blocker’s that’s presented in the marketing. I understand it’s his story we’re following, but while Rosalie gets a bit of time, Studi’s Yellow Hawk is a passive, if antagonistic, figure in the whole thing. Maybe it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to the world from his perspective to provide some balance to the presentation.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.