Archive for October, 2015

A Note On Bone Tomahawk

October 31st, 2015 No comments

BT posterFinally! Kurt Russell returns to Westerns with two coming out this year. The first is Bone Tomahawk, a debut feature for director S. Craig Zahler and a reminder of why we love Russell in Westerns. Zahler has been a writer for years, writing novels, screenplays and for magazines, but has never helmed his own picture. Perhaps he was just waiting for the right one and, well, here it is. A director once told me that your first feature should not be an elaborate, high-concept ensemble piece. Your first feature just needs to be specific. In fact, he argued that is key to any film in any genre. And so we are given the specific story of the time Samatha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons) was kidnapped.

In the small town of Bright Hope things seem quiet and strangers are greeted with suspicion. So when a drifter comes through (David Arquette) it is inevitable that he would have a run in with The Sheriff (Kurt Russell). The Sheriff shoots the drifter in the leg, which seems commonplace, and then is left in his cell to be watched by the deputy and treated by the doctor, Mrs. O’Dwyer.   Unbeknown to them, however,barbaric and cannibalistic savages are hunting down the drifter for violating their sacred burial grounds. The three are kidnapped and the only evidence is an arrow from a lost tribe of vicious cannibals.

Thus, we are given our plot and the journey is set to begin. But no Western is complete wBoneTomahawk_Still8ithout first establishing our cast of characters:

The Sheriff, an enigmatic leader ready to break the law to enforce the law.

The Husband (Patrick Wilson), an injured yet undeterred Cowboy hell-bent on rescuing his wife despite his broken leg.

The Gun-Slinging Gentleman (Matthew Fox), a man with a sordid past that makes him useful at tracking down “savages.”

The “Back-Up” Deputy (Richard Jenkins), the moral compass driven by loyalty and an honorable sense of duty.

Once the men get on the road the biggest obstacles they need to overcome aren’t the elements in the desert. They need to overcome their own suspicions of The Gun-Slinging Gentleman and of course The Husband’s broken leg, which continues to get worse as he struggles to keep pace. It’s on this journey the film becomes something of a gritty and more violent The Searchers, using sweeping, arid landscapes to make us feel the heroes are surrounded with hopelessness. But this is a brutal, graphic venture into horrors that we have not typically seen in a Western. This journey, especially the final act, is not for the squeamish.

While most of other characters were captivating, the performance and character that drew my attention most was Chicory, the “back-up” deputy. He is not only a brilliantly conceived character but played wonderfully by Richard Jenkins. From his hunched and sullen stance, to a gait with a history of fighting the rough frontier life and his hurried yet careful speech, Jenkins owned the character like no one else in the film. In one of the later scenes he recalls a time he watched aflea circus and at the mere thought it might be real he became giddy, childlike. The nuance of this scene is one small example of how precise Jenkins performed throughout the entire film.

That’s not to say the film is without its flaws. Matthew Fox’s performance, while felt stilted, at times drawing me out of the story and making it very clear that I was watching Matthew Fox’s broad sketch of 19th century mannerisms. But the onus is not entirely on the performer. The writer had created a character that should be larger than life, one with a presence that alone creates tension among the others. But this character instead feels more like a missed opportunity, like the punches were pulled in both the writing and performance.

The other flaw in the film was probably the most egregious, creatively speaking, and cannot be discussed without some major spoilers. So I will discuss after the jump. Stop reading now if you don’t want to learn more about the cannibalistic cave dwellers.


When we finally come to face the savages the film starts to stray from the typical Rescue Western and move almost seamlessly into exploitation territory. It was a welcome development until we learn the cave dwellers communicate through a bizarre pattern of “howls” that sound more like creatures from Jurassic Park rather than from the Wild West. Even with a transition into exploitation the creative decision to make the dwellers sound like Predator bred with a Raptor felt completely out of place. And if that wasn’t distracting enough, O’Dwyer figures out he can remove some specially implanted voice box from a slain savage. (Implanted? Or some bizarre evolution from their perverted bloodline? Nah, pretty sure it was implanted). He takes this voice box, blows air through it, and uses the sound to summon the others. This is not unlike Doctor Grant using the Raptor voice box in Jurassic Park 3. It would be a fine devise to use if the sound they designed wasn’t so distracting.

If you’re a fan of the genre you’ll really enjoy this film. It’s a very solid debut feature from a writer and director I am certain will have a prolific future and the wonderful performance from nearly everyone down through the supporting cast.

And please take special note of the amazing camera operating, camera assisting and assistant editing… brilliant work.


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