Travel leads to danger and sometimes even to knowledge. At least in the cinema. The western “Enemies – Hostiles”, which Scott Cooper filmed based on a story by screenwriter Donald E. Stewart from the 1980s, is about a purification. It is set in 1892, shortly after the Indian Wars. The west and south of America have been bloodily pacified, but hatred continues.
The opening credits quoted DH Lawrence: “The American soul is hard, closed and murderous in its essence.” The characterization applies to Army Captain Joseph Blocker, who embodies Christian Bale with a considerable mustache over emaciated facial features. He is a killer in uniform, has killed Indians all his career “because it was my job” and reads Julius Caesar in the Latin original, perhaps to relax. Now he should – it is the last order before his retirement – the old cancer-stricken Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his kin (Q’orianka Kilcher, Adam Beach, Xavier Horsechief and Tanaya Beatty) from custody in New Mexico to Montana bring. President Harrison wants to demonstrate leniency, so the chief is allowed to die in the sacred tribal area, the Valley of the Bears.
Heroism as a legend
“Enemies – Hostiles” pays homage to the classic Hollywood western and at the same time dismantles the old certainties of the genre, the legends of heroism and conquest as a form of civilization. On their way, the small tour group traverses landscapes of sublime beauty. The ride leads through the prairie, through semi-deserts, rivers and canyons, once the riders on their horses line up one behind the other to form a silhouette in front of a pale blue sky. There are campfires, nights in tents and close-ups of faces that appear to have been chiseled out of the dark background in the light of a kerosene lamp.
Scott Cooper, who helped Jeff Bridges win an Oscar with his county drama “Crazy Heart”, shows an almost idyll that is repeatedly hit by the most brutal violence. Right at the beginning, the Comanches raid a farmhouse, their attack is reminiscent of the greatest western ever, “The Searchers” by John Ford. The farmer is sawing wood while his wife is teaching her children in the house. He has no chance, the children die too, only their mother can hide. When she is found by Blocker, she carries her dead baby around with her like a bloody doll. Rosamund Pike turns her into a stand-up woman who saves herself from grief and trauma into mercy.
Rogue becomes human
From now on, Captain Blocker and Chief Yellow Hawk have a common enemy, the Komantschen. At first the officer challenges the Indian to a duel, he would like to kill him. When he leaves he lets him tie up, later the chains literally fall. The antagonists can only survive together. On the way, they also have to deal with a soldier who is to be executed for something the captain has also done: murdering Indians.
What was just part of the war strategy is now considered a capital crime. The closer the troupe approaches Montana, the more the film suffers from the excessive clarity of its message of reconciliation. It is not enough for blockers to transform themselves from villains into fellow human beings. He also has to express it verbally. Enemies become friends, that was already maudlin with Winnetou and Old Shatterhand.
In twelve Berlin cinemas. OV: Cinestar Sony Center, Delphi Lux, OmU: Neues Off and Odeon