Bone Tomahawk opens with the sound of a man’s throat being cut, with hisses, pops, and crunches as each vein, tendon, and ligament is sliced clean through. The grisly act would appear to foreshadow a film full of violence and bloodshed, yet Bone Tomahawk largely sidesteps the B-movie path, and instead presents a measured Western road movie about determination and comradery (Well, as measured as a film that follows a man being visibly scalped can be).
Following The Hateful Eight, Kurt Russell doubles down on his moustachioed period roles, here playing a small-town sheriff who must assemble a rescue team after three inhabitants of the town are kidnapped by a group of Native American cannibals. Along for the ride are Patrick Wilson’s crippled cowboy, husband of one of the captives, Matthew Fox’s dandyish gunslinger, and Richard Jenkins’ elderly ‘back-up deputy’. The bulk of the film follows these four characters’ pursuit of the cannibals and, much like the Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit, ultimately becomes more about the journey itself and the men who are undertaking it than the quest that lies ahead.
The performances are a uniform display of gritted teeth and knotted eyebrows, with each actor seemingly trying to outdo the others in a display of steely resolve. Russell is far subtler here than his showy portrayal in Tarantino’s latest, his ease at playing the authority figure readily apparent. Fox also does well portraying the sort of character that could so easily become a caricature in lesser hands, imbuing the role with a certain stillness, and hinting at a backstory that is unfortunately only partially revealed.
As the film enters the final act, it crosses into horror movie territory, featuring a couple of truly shocking moments of gory dismemberment, before an ending that arguably wraps things up rather too neatly, and which required a good deal of ignorance of logic. Neither particularly revisionist nor nostalgic, it seems unlikely that Bone Tomahawk will have as much of a legacy as some other recent Westerns, yet for fans of the genre or indeed any of the main actors, it’s worth checking out. Just be prepared to avert your eyes during the scalping.
Is it worth watching?
+ Layered performances
+ Shocking gore
– Pacing issues
A Western road movie with horror elements, that doesn’t boast a lot in the way of action, but features good performances and at least one truly memorable death scene
Watch the trailer for Bone Tomahawk
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