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Stars: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Ben Foster, Adam Beach, Timothee Chalamet, Peter Mullan, Q'orianka Kilcher, Scott Wilson, Paul Anderson

Director: Scott Cooper

A grim, very slow, red in tooth-and-claw western, set in 1892, which goes deeper into character than usual, albeit not always in convincing ways. Hero Bale's conversion from hatred of native American chieftain Yellow Hawk (Studi), for example, to a deep-felt friendship at the end, is uneasily speedy and whole-hearted.

The film opens on a massacre, as Rosalie Quaid's (Pike) husband, daughters and baby are slaughtered by native renegades. Alone with the dead, she is discovered by cavalry officer Bale and his men, who are reluctantly escorting a dying Yellow Hawk and his family from New Mexico to far-off Montana and his traditional tribal home - an assignment Bale's Capt Joe Blocker has at first refused.

On detail with him are his long-serving sergeant (Cochrane, unrecognisable - beneath a massive beard - from his CSI Miami days), a green lieutenant (Plemons) and a French private who barely lasts beyond the first reel. Bale himself sports a moustache that almost rivals Kenneth Branagh's in that dreary Orient Express film.

On the way, they're attacked by the aforementioned renegades as well as by fur traders, a killer (Foster) who must also be taken to Montana, and, at the end, by a family of father and four brothers who have claimed the chief's land as their own.

As the trek progresses, the director manages to fill in many of the traditional western cliches, as well as rather heavy-handed sympathy for the native American peoples.

Bale and Pike end up sharing a tent, even after a death and a desertion make this unnecessary, but their relationship is gently handled by both director and actors, each of whom give delicately nuanced performances. That said, it's a mighty slow ride through the plains and forests, pardners, if with just enough action to hold a more restless soul's interest.

Strange to find a Welshman, Englishwoman and Scotsman (Mullan) in the leads of a Hollywood western, but I guess it's a sign of the times.

David Quinlan

USA 2017. UK Distributor: Entertainment. Colour by efilm.
132 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 01 Jan 2018