“I recall Robert Duvall telling me, ‘The English have Shakespeare; the French have Molière; we, as Americans, have Westerns,” Hostiles writer-director Scott Cooper told Deadline’s Pete Hammond at The Contenders today, appearing with stars Wes Studi and Q’orianka Kilcher. “I’m really pleased to have been able to work in this genre. But more than a Western, it’s just a humanistic look at grief, and how we can come together as one.”

Deadline

Based on an original story by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Donald E. Stewart (Missing), the Entertainment Studios production takes place in 1892, following a legendary Army captain (Christian Bale) who leads a dying Cheyenne chief (Studi) and his family through dangerous territory, overcoming his reluctance to put himself in harm’s way for a man deemed by the U.S. government to be the enemy.

Taking on his own period Western with iconic filmmakers like John Ford in mind, Cooper hoped to “contemporize” the film, contemplating racial divides that exist to this day. “We know that the racial and cultural divide in America is groing wider by the day,” the actor-turned-auteur said, “and I hoped to possibly create a conversation about inclusion, because I think that’s what’s most needed in a polarized nation.”

Studi, Kilcher and Cooper
Rex/Shutterstock

Approaching the project, which was a “homecoming of sorts” for Studi, Kilcher and Bale — who appeared together in Terrence Malick’s 2005 period drama The New World — Studi reflected on the way in which the Bale character’s actions mirror present-day realities. In a sense, John Rolfe’s rescue of Opechancanough is more of a “publicity stunt” than anything else. “I think it was a good look at how our world functions and has for a long, long time,” the actor said. “The fact that someone gets some publicity points out of the story that we tell is very telling of the world we live in these days.”

Impressed by Bale’s ability to become “fluent” in Cheyenne for the film, Studi also was challenged to learn the language for the production. “This was my first time speaking Cheyenne, but I do have a whole lot of Cheyenne friends,” Studi shared, “and I hope to keep them.”

Premiering in Telluride before moving on to Toronto, Hostiles is the first major awards prospect for Byron Allen’s new Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures. Also starring Rosamund Pike, Jesse Plemons, Ben Foster and ubiquitous up-and-comer Timothée Chalamet, the film is scheduled for release on December 22.