A great film!
Bone Tomahawk had been on my radar for a while, but for some reason I always stalled watching it. I made a terrible mistake in not watching this film when it first came out as it proves to be one of the best westerns in recent years. We have a classic story of gunslingers who set out to hunt down a vicious cannibal tribe of Native Americans after their town is attacked.
Our lead Sheriff Hunt is played by the almost always great Kurt Russell, and here he proves his badassness. Accompanying him is his back-up deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), an injured construction worker Arthur (Patrick Wilson) who is searching for his kidnapped wife, and professional Indian killer Brooder (Matthew Fox). Each of these characters is real and textured. They all felt like real people, and that is becoming something of a rarity in a lot of films.
Where Bone Tomahawk differs itself from other westerns is that it also blends moments of exploitation and horror into the story. We end up with a riveting, sometimes scary, often funny, and never boring adventure. The film looks and sounds fantastic. The countryside the men travel across is often monotonous, but that adds to the feeling of dread as they have been warned that this outcast tribe is not one to be trifled with.
The dialogue is great, and we truly get to know our characters through brief conversations that often don’t seem to line up with the story. We have numerous asides that might not move the plot forward, but allow us to get into the minds of the characters.
The violence in this movie is brutal and verges on being over-the-top, but manages to keep things dripping with a sort of dark realism. Skimming over some other reviews I see that the gore seems to be a divisive point for a lot of folks. Bone Tomahawk is not like a John Wayne western—we have plenty of blood and guts throughout. The brutality and desperation of a lot of the scenes reminds me more of The Hills Have Eyes (a film I really should rewatch) than any other western. In some ways I can see this movie being compared to Quentin Tarantino, but without the self-referential and postmodern vibe.
Issues of racial violence are present within the film, but they are not discussed through a 21st century discourse. Brooder hates Indians because his family was victim to a raiding party, and this is enough of a reason for all of the characters. While the film does make it clear that this tribe being hunted should not be considered the same as Native Americans, it is also clear that folks like Brooder won’t make a distinction. The film is not concerned with racial dialogue aside from a plot device, and it is up to you as the viewer to determine whether this is problematic. For me, not having progressive ideas present seats the film in a more period-feeling light. As I watched the film these issues hung in the back of my mind, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.
Overall, this is one you shouldn’t miss. 9/10