Bone Tomahawk

Bone Tomahawk ★★★★

There are several reasons why Bone Tomahawk is a remarkable film but I just wonder if the most remarkable thing about it is going to get the acknowledgement it deserves.

This is, after all, a film starring Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins, among others, and yet the best performance in the film is by Matthew Fox. MATTHEW FOX. I don't really think that was supposed to happen. But clearly, when director S. Craig Zahler (goddammit, I hate people who have an initial and then a middle name as their name, it's so awkward) cast him, he might have had an idea that he was going to produce something quite exceptional. Because I doubt he would have been anyone else's choice to be one of the leads in a slow western / horror movie hybrid.

Yet he is and his quiet, sarcastic and gentlemanly 'serial' killer of Indians is also a fantastically well written character who doesn't exactly have a heroic bone in his body. But he has principles, and that is what Bone Tomahawk trades heavily on - the traditional western morals. At the same time, it's not afraid to give them a kicking. The look on Russell's face when Lili Simmons chastises his stupidity for possibly leading her crippled husband, Patrick Wilson, to a cave of cannibals, tells the whole story.

It's a skewering alright, but Bone Tomahawk isn't one of those revisionist westerns that sets out to torch everything about the Old West and hold it up to ridicule. By all accounts this is a traditional old western adventure haul across rough terrain and into probable slaughter in enemy territory, and a very slow one at that. After a stunning opening scene, things slow down as the hunt for Simmons and a kidnapped deputy begins, but I was never quite sure if Russell was quite the level-headed presence he liked to put across - what with his penchant for shooting suspects in the leg. It makes for immediate intrigue, along with Fox's motivations for making the journey.

Zahler hands over the responsibility for the middle third of the film to the wily old hands of Russell and Jenkins, feeds them some wonderful dialogue, and lets them do the rest with Fox and Wilson providing quieter but still excellent support. Their exchanges are just marvellous. Jenkins is such a delight in every role he plays and he's never better when he's given something bordering on the more comedic. He's not just an underwritten comic relief though, even if he does get almost all the best lines here ("I was gonna get it - but I'm old and I forgot.") and I could have listened to him and Russell swap stories and lines all night.

I won't allow this to degenerate into my usual fanboying over Kurt Russell, I promise, but I do want to say a couple of things here. It's a real shame that he's lived in an era where the western has been much quieter than at any other point in cinema history, because as he proves here and the delightful Tombstone, he's just got the knack for it. I actually wonder if this might be his finest performance. I've often said he's an actor who knows his limitations and sticks to being brilliant at what he's good at. Yet here he ditches some of his charming heroism for something more circumspect and accepting of his probable fate. I honestly don't know if he's ever been better.

With some incredibly bracing scenes of violence (my brain needs a shower after THAT Evan Jonigkeit scene), and the way these 'troglodytes' are portrayed, I can see why Bone Tomahawk has been embraced as a rare western horror film - but it's not for me. I don't care one bit though because I was far more interested in just what a fine film this is, coming out of nowhere, and my fingers are crossed that everyone involved here gets their stunning work recognised both financially and critically.

🇵🇱 Steve G liked these reviews