The Western genre is a beautiful thing when done well. You have to sift through the cheesiness and cliché to find the good stuff, not unlike panning for gold, but there is something romantic and raw about the right portrayal of the American Southwest in the late 1800s. As a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy, I find there is an appeal to the brutality and simplicity of frontier life that is almost primal, but cinematically, that beauty is often lost on audiences.

“Hostiles” follows Army captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) torn between duty and conscience in the Southwest in 1892. He’s a damaged man, having seen war and genocide, and perhaps more. He is tasked with escorting a Native American chief and his family from a prison in Arizona to their homeland in Wyoming. He takes great offense to the task, but concedes after a riveting scene with his superior (Stephen Lang).

Leading a small team of soldiers through the wilderness, we see the contrasts of western versus native cultures, and they grow a bond that can only be forged through a dangerous adventure. Along their journey, they pick up wayward stranger Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) in a heartbreaking circumstance. Together, this motley crew relies on each other for survival in a hostile environment.

Christian Bale hasn’t been better in years. You can feel the heaviness of regret and shame, hardened heart and the absence of humanity in his character’s spirit. He conveys the emotions of a master actor with just his eyes and posture, which shows why he is one of the current greats. His lack of award nomination is a travesty, as his performance should have edged out Denzel Washington’s. His mustache alone should win awards.

Supporting players Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, Timothee Chalamet, and particularly Rory Cochrane, complement Bale extremely well. For my money, in addition to Best Actor, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, Rory Cochrane should have received a Best Supporting Actor nomination. His character, master sergeant Thomas Metz, is absolutely breathtaking, and he plays him with a heavy, broken will.

Scott Cooper, best known for “Crazy Heart,” made a film a few years back that flew way under the radar, but left a strong impression on me; “Out of the Furnace.” It was a mature, gritty drama that is rare for an amateur writer/director, but paved the way for a certain expectation from his future work. “Hostiles” shows that he isn’t just a flash in the pan. I expect a big career from this young (relatively) filmmaker.

The story isn’t quite as moving as the characters, and often seems a bit longwinded and grandiose but most admirable Westerns are. Cooper chooses to take the scenic route, meandering through wilderness, stopping only for tragedy or obstacle, because at their heart that’s what Westerns are — tragedies. The happy ending is a myth for anyone in the 1890s American southwest, and that’s the draw for fans as well as the roadblock for the wider audience. Love them or hate them, Westerns are an important and nostalgic piece of history, and even more so, film history.

In a year lacking any true frontrunner for Best Picture, we see a wide array of candidates. “Hostiles” is one of the strongest I’ve seen, which makes its snubs even more disappointing to me.

Not for the faint of heart, there is a significant amount of violence and bloodshed in “Hostiles,” but that is the whole point. Grim and bleak, the film will leave an impression on you, and the acting will blow you away. Prepare yourself for an emotional film, and appreciate the landscape.