Release: 13th June 2016
Format: BR / DVD
When a group of cannibal savages kidnaps settlers from the small town of Bright Hope, an unlikely team of gunslingers, led by Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), sets out to bring them home. But their enemy is more ruthless than anyone could have imagined, putting their mission – and survival itself – in serious jeopardy.
Bone Tomahawk is like a wolf in grandma’s nightgown. In its opening minutes, writer / director S. Craig Zahler let’s us ponder, “what big eyes you have;” as he hints at something sinister, lurking beneath the veneer. Then we rest easy for a while, enjoying this ‘Western’ in all its “yee-haw” glory. Next, “what big claws you have;” we are cottoning on to something a-miss. By the time we reach act three and finally decide to comment on grandma’s teeth, the wolf stands to reveal itself in all its grizzly and terrifying glory; then you’ll likely vomit and wish for better days. To say more would be a massive spoiler, just know that Bone Tomahawk is truly as brutal as its title suggests. Tell your folks, this ‘aint no John Ford malarkey.
There is a definite pulp feel to Zahler’s directorial debut. Whether it’s the zippy Tarantino flavour of his dialogue, or the no-nonsense fragrance of Walter Hill in his direction, Zahler is clearly confident that audiences will ‘get’ what he is trying to achieve here. There are moments, quite a few in fact, where Bone Tomahawk starts to feel like folklore. Films such as The 13th Warrior and Apocalytpo spring to mind, particularly as the film descends into its eventual mayhem. Bone Tomahawk has the sensibilities of a Scandinavian crime drama, tarted up with sprawling vistas and hard boiled archetypes of a classic Western. There seems to be a conscious choice in casting Kurt Russell in the central role, while surrounding him with actors that never quite make sense. Disorientation is a common feeling when watching the movie, never visually, but always emotionally. Here is a film that toys with our expectations and interpretations, slowly turning up the heat and boiling us like a dumbass frog. Before we know it, we really aren’t in Kansas anymore.
Because Bone Tomahawk has such B-Movie sensibilities, there is a certain hammy quality to proceedings. Russell is, as you’d expect, a perfect fit as Sheriff Hunt (least subtle name of the year), while Patrick Wilson and company perform adequate roles in supporting their lead. Matthew Fox gives an interesting turn as Brooder (another less than subtle play on words), giving more than an air of John Wayne in The Searchers and Clint Eastwood’s man with no name. Brooder is the James Bond of the group, dapper and deadly, but he is also a super racist; which is a bold move for someone who’s biggest role to date mostly involved skulking around paradise and being a heartthrob.
The most surprising element of the film is that you never realise you’ve made an emotional connection with the characters until things start to get ugly. And that is possibly the slyest thing this wolf achieves. You’re not likely to forget these guys in a hurry, and as it turns out, you genuinely want them to succeed in their mission; especially when you see what awaits them in the great American wilderness. The wind will never sound the same again.
Film Grade: B-
The special features that accompany Bone Tomahawk look substantial but really aren’t. There is a reasonably informative Making Of, featuring all involved in the film’s production. Then follows an insanely long and tedious Live Q&A from a screening of the movie.
Special Features Grade: D+
You’ll definitely leave a viewing Bone Tomahawk visibly shaken. Whether that is worth the experience remains entirely personal, but one thing is undeniable, this isn’t an experience you will forget.