Movie Review: Bone Tomahawk



I had first heard about Bone Tomahawk WAY back when Timothy Olyphant was attached to the project and have made it a point to stay up to date on the project as it went through various obstacles to finally see the light of day.  I am now happy to say that I have finally got to see the movie and that the wait for it was well worth it.  The fact the movie stars Kurt Russell was enough for me to get excited to begin with, add in the bizarre story and great ensemble cast to support him and we have an instant classic on our hands.

Featuring Kurt Russell as a frontier town sheriff Franklin Hunt, Bone Tomahawk is set in the Post-Civil War era in the West and pits Hunt and his small band or would be rescuers against a group of outcast and degenerate Indians who have kidnapped some locals and a prisoner of Hunt’s.

The movie starts out with two highwaymen Buddy and Purvis played by Sid Haig and David Arquette who have just murdered some travelers in their sleep.  They end up stumbling into a place better left alone and as a result we have the Old West version of Thunderdome where two men enter and one man…eats an arrow and Purvis gets the hell out of there.  We then flash to the town of Bright Hope where we are introduced to our main cast.  Hunt (Russell) is the rugged town sheriff with a common sense approach to situations who has an old, befuddled back up deputy named Chicory (Richard Jenkins) who has a penchant for rambling and losing his train of thought.  Right from the onset of the interaction between Hunt and Clarence, you can tell the dialog and the character interactions in the movie is going to be special.  Russell is an actor from a bygone era who also had a father who acted in Westerns and also came from a different time and it is obvious Russell knows how to deliver the dialog in the movie in a way that someone who knows and somewhat lived around people who knew what these words mean and how someone would say them.  Everything from his delivery of the lines to his body language exudes how someone from this time and lifestyle would act which gives the movie an air authenticity that is rare in films these days.

We are also introduced to Author O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) who is sitting at home with his wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) with a busted up leg he sustained from a fall.  There is also the gentleman gunslinger John Brooder (Matthew Fox) who comes off a bit morally ambiguous and perhaps a bit aloof and has a bit of history with O’Dwyer’s wife which sets up potential conflict between the two.

Things are set in motion when Clarence reports to Hunt that he spotted a stranger burying something in the night and they find the stranger in the local saloon drowning away his troubles.  After a brief questioning and a gunshot to the leg, Hunt arrests the stranger, who by the way is Purvis, and takes him to jail.  Brooder goes to find the town doctor but has to fall back on O’Dwyer’s wife as a backup because the doctor is drunk.  Samantha takes her doctor bag to the jail to treat the now wounded prisoner.

Hunt leaves the jail in charge of his main Deputy (not Chicory) for the night and leaves the doctor to take care of the prisoner and retires for the night.  During the night a stable boy is brutally killed, and everyone in the jail is missing the next morning with the only evidence an odd arrow sticking in a support beam in the jail.  Hunt gathers everyone in the saloon along with an Indian scout who explains that the Indian kidnappers are not part of any tribe and are regarded as outcasts.  He also explains that to go in search of the kidnapped victims would only result in the deaths of everyone looking for them and that he would not help them search but would mark on the map where to go.

Hunt and O’Dwyer, with his severely broken leg are going in search, Chicory insists he will also go despite Hunt’s misgivings and Brooder volunteers as he tells O’Dwyer that he was the one who called on his wife to help treat the prisoner and he feels responsible for getting her kidnapped.  With that the four men set off on a five day ride.

During this ride, the film and actors do a fantastic job of giving each character their own unique personality and quirks.  This really helps build up a certain camaraderie between the group and you begin to see a certain type of honor to do what is right come out of each member that could only be bred from the time period the film takes place.  A time when men stood up in the face of dangers that were very deadly and in your face and that if you blinked, you died.

As the group gets deeper into their journey their situation gets slowly but steadily worse through random circumstance and just from the situation they are riding into.  They run into a random group of robbers who steal their horses which forces them to walk which in turn slows O’Dwyer down and he has to limp along on his bad leg and try to catch up to the group as the outpace him.  This was another aspect of the film that made me just fixate on how painful it must be to have to walk in that kind of terrain with leg like that.  Every time I watched him take a step I cringed.  Once the group gets to their destination things really spiral into…bad times.  I then realized maybe having a broken leg wasn’t so bad after all.

We discover why the Indians sneaked into the town and kidnapped the people in the jail, we see a pretty gruesome torture scene, we see our heroes trying to use inventive ways to even the odds and we see a very degenerate group of Indians that have a unique way of communicating and treating prisoners.  All of this just adds to the unique flavor of the film, though I can see shades of the 13th Warrior in the film

When the credits began to roll I was left feeling that this movie is going to be one of the highlights of Russell’s career and is one of the best performances in his career.  Not for the overt things he does but for the subtle things he does in the film.  The film is filled with great dialog, superb performances from the entire cast and it conveys a true sense of what it means for men to stand up and do the right thing in the face of something that they very well may not come back from.  I read somewhere Russell personally wanted to be a part of this film after reading the story by Director/Writer S. Craig Zahler and pushed to help get it made.  I am really glad he did as I can tell he knows how to identify with roles like this and I think there are parts of these characters he has seen in other people in his past and it made this movie a bit more personal for him and as a result it is conveyed to the screen through his performance.

Bone Tomahawk is a movie Russell was born to play.  S. Craig Zahler as both a director and writer knows how to craft a slow but gripping story while also building up interesting characters with different backgrounds and personalities while also giving each one their own code of honor to live by.  The movie is now available on VOD and in select theaters and you need to go and support the film as it truly is a treat to watch and needs your attention.

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