1892. The last vestiges
of the Old West. The natives
have all but disappeared; squeezed
out by the encroaching white man's settlements, wiped out by fights with
the U.S. Cavalry, and consigned to “Indian” reservations, usually in
unwanted scrub land far from familiar territory.
It's a sad tale of conquest and displacement, but of course there
are plenty of stories of persecution and perfidy on both sides.
We begin with a frontier family being slaughtered by a marauding
band of Comanches. The only
one who survives is the Mom, Rosalie (Rosamund Pike), but only because she
hid. Her husband and children
were killed, and their house burned down.
Meanwhile, at a nearby fort, a grizzled Captain Blocker (Christian
Bale), ready to retire, is given one last set of orders by his Colonel:
escort a notorious Cheyenne chief, Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi)
back to Montana Territory, where he came from, so he can die there.
Yellow Hawk had been imprisoned for years, but now is old and sick
with cancer, and President Benjamin Harrison has ordered that his request
for a burial site be granted.
But Captain Blocker does not want to accept these orders.
All he knows is that Chief Yellow Hawk was directly responsible for
the deaths of many soldiers under Blocker's command.
He even tries to recite the name of these soldiers to his Colonel,
convinced that this would earn him some reprieve from this dangerous and
onorous duty. But in the end,
it's obey the direct order, or get court-martialed and lose your pension
So, very reluctantly, Captain Blocker leads the ragtag expedition
westward. It seems Chief
Yellow Hawk has an entourage, his son and daughter and daughter-in-law and
grandson. And the widow
Rosalie has no place else to go. And
sure enough, they get raided by the same party of renegade Comanches, with
casualties on both sides.
Passing through a Colorado fort, Captain Blocker is given yet
another unwanted assignment: escort
a prisoner who is charged with a hanging offense:
desertion. It turns out
that Captain Blocker has shared battle experience with the prisoner, who
tries to claim that everyone's guilty of something, so what not just let
Yes, the mortal enemy lines get blurred in this distinctive Western
epic. The rugged countryside
looks as pristeen as it must have been 125 years ago.
Chief Yellow Hawk rightly points out that they could do a lot more
good with protecting the group if their hands weren't shackled.
And then there are the rogue miners who kidnap the women while
they're washing the dinner dishes by the creek.
It's a time of self-reliance, and a certain moral ambivalence about
further oppressing the natives. The characters are as stark as the
scenery. Life is brutal and
short. Medical help is all but
unheard of. And hygienic facilities simply aren't available in the
But the cinematic trek through the genuine part of The Old West
will capture the imagination of the campfire storyteller.
Even if it is hard to find a “happily ever after.”