***1/2 (out of 5)
October 23, 2015
Kurt Russell as SHERIFF FRANKLIN HUNT
Patrick Wilson as ARTHUR O’DWYER
Matthew Fox as JOHN BROODER
Richard Jenkins as CHICORY
Lili Simmons as SAMANTHA O’DWYER
David Arquette as PURVIS
Studio: RLJ Entertainment
Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Contrary to what some people believe, the western is not dead. And it’s not all attributable to Quentin Tarantino (because contrary to what Tarantino fans might like to think, his films “Django Unchained” and the upcoming “Hateful Eight” are not the only modern westerns out there). These films may not always get the widest releases or the most attention. Just look at this year’s somewhat forgotten slow-burn western “Slow West” for an example of that.
While there are some major western movies released to the mainstream public, sometimes it’s what comes out of the independent circles that serve as a reminder as to how cool these movies could be.
Novelist S. Craig Zahler turns his western expertise to the big screen (or the small screen if you can only catch this title on VOD right now) with “Bone Tomahawk.” The story follows a posse of men led by a small town sheriff as they head into uncharted land to rescue one of their wives who had been kidnapped by a cannibal tribe.
Let me stop you right there: This is not a politically correct movie. No need to unleash your outrage with a hashtag and online petition. The world is not going to end. And, if you can set aside your contemporary knee-jerk slacktivisim for a second, you just might realize that there’s a lot of politically incorrect truth in “Bone Tomahawk.”
This film is a classic western that reflects the attitudes of the people at the time of its setting. It’s not sensational or insulting. However, it does show the American west as a gritty, dangerous place, and not all the bad guys wear black hats and come from a European background. However, just because the characters might not have the most tolerant views when viewed through contemporary spectacles, and just because the villains in the film represent the tiniest sliver of exception to what was the whole of the Native American world at the time, doesn’t’ mean that “Bone Tomahawk” doesn’t offer one hell of a compelling viewing experience.
The movie kicks off with a scene of senseless violence meant to show this isn’t a western that merely consists of majestic shots of Monument Valley. The villains are introduced early, just barely, and the conflict that eventually arises is sadly one that had played out similarly in history, where misunderstanding and exacting revenge against a group for the acts of a single person paved the way for blood to be spilt.
We soon move into the bulk of the film, which plays out very deliberately. This isn’t much of a disappointment because the trailers hinted at a slow-burn character piece. We are shown this isn’t an action flick. Instead, things unfold like a horror movie.
Eventually the film catches up with its premise, and the slow-paced first part gives way to a chilling and visceral look at frontier terror. Though not nearly as sensational and exploitative, “Bone Tomahawk” plays out like a vintage “The Hills Have Eyes” with a small group of victims at the hands of the troglodytes of its time. And as grisly as the film gets near the climax, the real horrors are only hinted at with this society of cave dwellers that take on the sheriff and his men.
“Bone Tomahawk” is not for the squeamish, and it’s not quite your grandfather’s western. It’s not the kind of movie that John Wayne would have made, and Hopalong Cassidy would have fled screaming from this set. Instead, it’s a horror western for the modern age that uses the most realistic scares instead of corny horror movie mash-up ideas.