Everyone knows the legendary Kurt Russell has a big western coming out this year in Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight. What many people don’t know is that Russell is the lead in two westerns in 2015. The lesser known Bone Tomahawk is a classic western through and through. The movie has some real A-List stars delivering amazing performances. The only question is why the studios backing the film wouldn’t go for a wide release.
When a suspicious drifter (David Arquette) comes into the small town of Bright Hope he gets the attention of Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) and his ever faithful, if not somewhat plain minded, back up deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins). The two arrest Purvis, the drifter, and find out why the man was rattled. Purvis had an encounter with a tribe of cannibals. The cannibals fall on Bright Hope at night and take some of the town’s people. Hunt and Chicory are joined by a ranch foreman, Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) and a former soldier with a distaste for Native Americans, John Brooder (Matthew Fox).
Bone Tomahawk tells a tight concise story without more information than it needs. The characters are developed enough to be unique individuals, they have pasts, personalities, and goals. Each character is given enough screen time to get the point across and nothing more. You care about the men who venture out to get the townsfolk that are more than just nameless faces. A bit of the development is shallow, namely on the protagonist, but this doesn’t diminish the enjoyment in watching it.
Bone Tomahawk plays out like a Western from the glory days of Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Gene Autry. The town looks authentic (as it should, filmed on location for large parts of it), the costuming is realistic and the performances are reminiscent of a simpler time when the world turned a little slower. The characters feel used to the lived in world they are a part of and nothing stands out to take you out of the movie.
The pacing is on the slow side compared to more modern adventure films but the snappy dialogue keeps the characters going and the audience hooked. The scenes of wandering the open country, and there are quite a few, aren’t filler or an excuse to show some landscapes in HD but a way to build up the characters while literally and figuratively moving them toward their goal.
The cinematography is gorgeous in Bone Tomahawk. For a movie with a modest budget of under five million dollars, supposedly, I expected some overexposed shots and a bit of grain. Maybe some filters to age the movie into the Golden Western age done to hide the lack of quality. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The picture was crisp, every image cast beautifully. The sound editing was spot on and the soundtrack was subtle; used just enough to punctuate the tone.
The coolest aspect of Bone Tomahawk is also the one that really makes it stand out. At its core it is an adventure and action movie but the way it was shot speaks volumes to the horror genre. The cannibalistic tribe would be the monster of the film. They are visually striking with some unique identifiers that have them act as monsters but still exist in the real world. Every early encounter with the monsters is left to the viewer’s imagination more than anything. Sounds, glimpses, and guerilla encounters make the monsters grow in the audience’s mind as the players on screen figure out what’s happening. When the reveal comes Bone Tomahawk will not let you down.
Bone Tomahawk likely isn’t playing in a theater near you, and that’s a shame. Luckily we live in the age of the internet and it can be gotten in streaming HD from legitimate sources like Amazon. It’s well worth your time and money to get into this amazing Western. As a quick side note, the rumors of it having the most brutal murder you’ve seen in a movie are completely accurate… wow.