Rome Film Fest Opens With 'Hostiles'

Director Scott Cooper and stars Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi discussed why the film, set in 1892, has become increasingly more relevant in today’s America.

The Rome Film Fest on Thursday opened its 12th edition with Scott Cooper’s new film Hostiles. The director presented the movie in the Italian capital with its stars Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi.

Hostiles takes place in 1892 and revolves around a U.S. Army captain, Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), who has spent his career fighting North American tribes. After much protest, he is ordered to escort a dying Cheyenne chief (Studi) and his family from New Mexico back to his sacred tribal lands in Montana. On the way, they meet a young widow, Rosalie Quaid (Pike), who is in shock after her entire family has been murdered by Comanche tribes. Together, they must fight to stay alive on the treacherous thousand-mile journey with enemies coming from all sides.

The film, influenced by such diverse sources as the novels of Cormack McCarthy, the photographs of Edward Curtis and John Ford’s The Searchers, was written by Curtis and Donald E. Stewart as an alternative to the Western genre. It explores the emotional journey of sworn enemies brought together through shared grief and trauma.

On Thursday, Cooper said that he hopes the film will start a conversation in today's divided America about topics such as inclusion and reconciliation.

“The story today has become more relevant than when I was first writing the screenplay,” he said. “It’s no secret that America is experiencing a vast racial and cultural divide that since November has grown, and it’s growing ever wider by the day. America has never been more polarized.”

Studi also believes that the U.S. is entering a new period, which is “more volatile in terms of race relations and societal norms. I feel that our film does speak to the contemporary as well as the historical, and hopefully we as human beings can learn from that,” he said.

For Pike, what was interesting for her was playing a character very different than the type of woman she sees in films today. “Rosalie’s strength is not like the strong women of modern films who have to be strong because they’re cut in the image of a man; they wield a sword or they wield a gun, or they show masculine qualities,” said the actress. “I think Rosalie’s [characteristics] are inherently feminine. She sees, she understands, she witnesses, she learns and she grows.”

Pike also compared her character’s journey with other current events, such as how women have responded to the broad sexual assault allegations sweeping Hollywood. “We’ve all been riveted recently by what happens when women join together and speak out,” she said.

Pike said her character’s journey, in recognizing herself in another mother and daughter, was very different than Blocker’s journey. “His projection as a soldier is needing to have an enemy,” she said. “I think that’s the other political dimension of war and combat. Hatred is bred in soldiers out of necessity because they are told that their job is validated by an enemy.”  

Added Cooper: “I think it really comes down to inclusion and listening. Because if we listen to those that differ from us, that’s where we can most learn. We’re on a course in America, that if it continues this way, and I’m generally a very optimistic person, I think the difficulties overcoming that will be quite vast. But we did it before. We did it in the 1940s. Let’s hope that we’re not headed in that way.”