“Bone Tomahawk” is a little indie western film starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Sid Haig and David Arquette. The film is directed by newcomer S. Craig Zahler in a mesmerizing first project affair. Four men in the Wild West set out to rescue a group of captives from a reclusive band of cannibalistic Indians who crave nothing but flesh and blood. The four men will stop at nothing to rescue their friends and hopefully put an end to the tyranny of the savageness coming from this inbred band of humanity.
“Bone Tomahawk” is a very traditional western for a good half of the movie. We see a slow buildup to the characters, the setting and the feel for the world that our heroes are living in. Then the last half of the film becomes a straight up horror film, with some of the most gruesome and violent imagery that I have seen from a film in a long while. What makes “Bone Tomahawk” work is the realism of the period. All the characters talk and speak like they would during the late post Civil War 1800’s. The director nailed the dialect and the actors all brought their all to this project. Kurt Russell has always been a beast, a great actor and a great hero to root for. He was awesome as the gunslinger sheriff Wyatt Earp in “Tombstone” and I can’t wait to see him in the Tarantino movie “The Hateful Eight.” And here in “Bone Tomahawk” he fits right in to this western world. Patrick Wilson is also great as the husband of the woman who is kidnapped by the cannibalistic Indians. Matthew Fox is always a pleasure to watch and Richard Jenkins from HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and “Cabin in the Woods” was awesome as the sheriff’s deputy. There is no denying that the talent involved made this picture not only watchable but believable and a lot of fun.
I want to talk about western realism for a minute. One of the things that makes great westerns great is the realism that is involved. I am a huge fan of the Clint Eastwood western films but there is no realism in those movies. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood made romanticized versions of the Wild West, which is fine but it isn’t accurate on the reality of the west. The west was truly wild. It was a land ruled by savages and men of savage nature. I think two movies, besides this one have really shown the reality of the Wild West. The first is “The Proposition,” directed by John Hillcoat. This is an Australian Western film that shows the brutality of man and doesn’t shy away from the violence that the West brought with it. The second was the Coen Brother’s “True Grit.” “True Grit” had those romantic elements in there, but the remake was dark, it was violent and it felt like a more accurate portrayal of the West that the John Wayne film immensely lacked. “Bone Tomahawk is no different. Director S. Craig Zahler does not shy away from violence and there are a handful of scenes that showcases violence to the extreme. However the violence isn’t put in there for pleasure. It is put in the film in a natural and realistic way that serves the story.
One of my favorite authors of all-time is Cormac McCarthy who wrote The Road, No Country for Old Men, and All the Pretty Horses. Cormac McCarthy is the ultimate Western writer and his first novel, Blood Meridian is the quintessential Western novel. It has realism, extreme violence and shows a West that is truly horrific to live in. “Bone Tomahawk” is one of the closest visions to that novel that you will ever see. If you are a reader, check out Blood Meridian. It is an intelligent, well written adventure novel that paints the most realistic Wild West that you will ever see. “Bone Tomahawk” shows the raw grittiness that really was the Wild West. One thing that really stood out to me with this film is the cinematography. I felt like I was watching a “True Grit” or a “3:10 to Yuma.” Benji Bakshi who shot the film really knows his stuff and he brought a fantastic realism to this film that I greatly appreciated.
If you like fast paced movies with a lot of action, then “Bone Tomahawk” isn’t the right film for you. This is a slow building film that leads to an awesome conclusion. The character development is slow but rewarding and the spectacle of the true Wild West is something to marvel at. Kurt Russell still kicks some series ass and his supporting actors help shape this little western into something fun and enjoyable. This is a polarizing story from start to finish but the extreme violence near the end might be too much for people to handle. If you are a western fan or like movies about Cowboys and Indians then give this film a shot. This little gem may surprise you and you might find yourself craving more tales from a west many eons ago.