Bone Tomahawk Movie Review
Written by Steven Wood
Released by RLJ Entertainment
Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler
2015, 132 minutes, Not Rated
Theatrical and VOD release on October 23rd, 2015
Kurt Russell as Sheriff Franklin Hunt
Patrick Wilson as Arthur O'Dwyer
Matthew Fox as John Brooder
Richard Jenkins as Chicory
Lily Simmons as Samantha O'Dwyer
A small search party sets out to rescue a kidnapped doctor and deputy from Indian savages.
Westerns have never been my cup of tea, since the last ones I can remember enjoying have been Wyatt Earp, Unforgiven and Tombstone. I wouldn’t say that Bone Tomahawk has given me new faith in the genre, but I thought it to be a worthy preface to my review.
The main cast of Bone Tomahawk is worth mentioning; with the likes of Kurt Russell (Big Trouble in Little China, Escape from New York), Patrick Wilson (Insidious, The Conjuring), Matthew Fox (Lost) and Richard Jenkins (Cabin in the Woods). Those actors all coming together on a film with a small budget is a feat in and of itself. Ensemble casts can be hit or miss, and someone always ends up stealing the show. In this case, everyone has just about equal screen time, and they all shine in their own respects and especially when interacting with each other. There is literally no weak link in this very strong chain of characters.
If there has to be a lead character, it would either be Russell’s Sheriff Hunt or Wilson’s Arthor O’Dwyer. Both have personal connections to the kidnapped party; Hunt’s deputy and O’Dwyer’s wife, played by Lili Simmons. The other two men in the search party are Matthew Fox’s expert Indian huntsman John Brooder, and Richard Jenkins’ back-up deputy Chicory. The chemistry shared between the four men is amazing and natural; you’d think they’ve worked on multiple projects in the past.
In terms of plot, it is about as straight forward as you can get; someone is kidnapped, now we must go find them, anyone who wants to join may do so, but is not required. They know not all will survive, but they have hope, albeit a slight one. I appreciate the lack of backstory, especially since Bone Tomahawk is already almost two and a half hours long. The first half could have easily been muddied up with non-required backstory on each character. We care about them; some more than others, but there is no need to get too deep.
Each character serves a unique purpose and the story wouldn’t have been the same if one were removed. Sure, old man Chicory starts out as comic relief, but his skills in medicine and loyalty to Sheriff Hunt come into play during the last quarter of the film. I have to hand it to writer/director S. Craig Zahler for making each of his characters useful yet likable at the same time. The first quarter, while slow, is still interesting due to the natural dialogue during scenes that make us care about the expedition in the first place.
On top of the impressive main cast, we are given some noteworthy cameos, by very recognizable people. The opening features thieves/killers Sid Haig and David Arquette, then later Sean Young (Blade Runner, Ace Ventura) and Michael Pare show up for a few lines.
Another thing I want to touch on is the effects, which are 100% practical and very disturbing. There isn’t a ton of violence, but when it happens, you see it all without hesitation. There is a particular set of brutal scenes towards the end which I don’t want to spoil, but they might be some of the more cringe-inducing things you’ll see this year.
With all of the praise, it wouldn’t be fair to not point out some things which could have been different, or maybe improved upon. First and foremost is Lily Simmons, who has been kidnapped by an Indian tribe that even scares other Indians; but she doesn’t seem to be bothered in the least. The trip to save her takes about four days, so that means she’s been captive for just as long, but upon arrival there are no tears, no cry of joy, just...nothing. Maybe there was a lack of direction on how she should be feeling, or maybe what was on screen was the best she could muster, it is what it is.
Lastly, with our search party; there are some pretty dumb decision-making skills between the four of them. The main being making sure one stays awake as a lookout while camping in known hostile territory. I’ll just say that having a lookout would have prevented two bad things from happening during their journey.
When all is said and done, Bone Tomahawk isn’t full-blown horror, and isn’t full-blown western either. I mean, you can’t have a western without chewing tobacco or cigarettes, right? The horror elements come in terms of the general idea of what is happening, but nothing happens on screen made me say “man, this is scary”.
If you like strong performances see this. If you are a fan of Kurt Russell in general, see this. If you want something different this year, see this. Basically I’m saying that you must see this movie.