“Crazy Heart,” “Out of the Furnace,” “Black Mass” and now “Hostiles.” Scott Cooper, the actor turned director, has quickly become one of the most prolific American cinematic voices. His latest film “Hostiles,” the darkest subject matter yet, but also his most accomplished. Cooper’s scripts have a slow burn about them, you don’t even realize “Hostiles” is one of the best films until the very end. The explosive third act punches you right in the face, that is if you can stomach the first ten minutes. It’s like “The Revenant” in that way, unforgiving, just like the era of 1892 in the West. Christian Bale who collaborated with Cooper on “Furnace,” delivers an immersive performance that’s as profound as anything he’s done. Hiding behind that brittle mustache, is a tormented soul that Bale dissolves into so deeply you forget this is the guy who played Bruce Wayne.

“Apaches are like ants. They just keep coming,” Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Bale) sounds off as he brings in the latest prisoners to Fort Berringer, N.M. As one of the most respected men in the carvery, his next to last assignment, will be to transport Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their land in Montana. Seven or more years ago, Blocker and his unit battled the chief, there were significant loses on both sides. Blocker, infamous for his violence toward the indigenous, always excused by duty, refuses the assignment, until it’s made clear he has no choice. On the long journey, the soldiers meet a woman who has lost everything, nearly her mind. Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) joins the men and prisoners on the dangerous path northward.

Conversations in “Hostiles” happen slow as the scenes simmer and unfold in what feels like real time. Cooper uses the rugged, undeveloped Western land as a character that sides with no one. While Bale’s performance is stern, solemn and steadfast, the original score by Max Richter (“Miss Sloane,” “Escobar Paradise Lost”) stimulates the perfect emotional response. It’s one of the most effective musical arrangements this year. Bale’s “3:10 to Yuma” co-star Ben Foster shows up midway through the film for a brief role. Foster’s inclusion here only reminded me how the plot is strikingly comparable to their 2007 collaboration. Oscar nominee Pike (“Gone Girl”), conjures up a sense of grief rarely seen on display in the genre. Her character’s arc is far more visible than Blocker’s, both becoming very different people on this journey.

Something else this brooding epic western has is emotional male characters. Blocker might be a hard shell on the outside but he isn’t afraid to shed a tear. A powerful silent scream from Bale early in the film only hints at the loss this film intends to inflict. Cooper admits that his films are heavy, but doesn’t apologize for his creative vision, nor should he. There is a brutal beauty here that’s uncompromised. A sadness rains over “Hostiles” that never lifts. It permeates each scene as they inch closer to the final destination. “Hostiles” is about men and women looking for redemption, but also hope that even the hardest of human beings can change. Cooper’s work here is magnificent in scope and scale, which also applies to the performances. Unmistakably one of the most powerful films of 2017 and equally as important, one of this decade’s great Westerns.

Final thought — Cooper delivers a dark master class Western that showcases the best of Bale’s restrained abilities.

Dustin Chase is a film critic and associate editor with Texas Art & Film, which is based in Galveston. Visit texasartfilm.com.

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