Ah the opening scene. It can be difficult to get right, it takes some thinking about. It can set the whole tone to a movie so it’s not something you do lightly. Bone Tomahawk does it as it aims to continue: by showing a man slit another man’s throat, the crunching of bone and slashing of flesh the only things you hear. It certainly sets the tone.
There’s so much I want to say about this movie as it is just absolutely fantastic. I’m racking my brain to see if I can say “it’s like X” or “it’s like Y” but I don’t think it’s like anything I’ve seen before.
The plot is quite simple: Four men, Arthur (played by Patrick Wilson – Watchmen, Fargo), Franklin (played by Kurt Russell), Sheriff John (an almost unrecognisable Matthew Fox – Lost, Speed Racer) and Deputy Sheriff Chicory (played by Richard Jenkins – Jack Reacher, Cabin In The Woods), set out across the Wild West to rescue a group of captives, including Arthur’s wife Samantha (played by Lili Simmons – Banshee) from cannibalistic cave dwelling troglodyte’s.
So when you’ve a premise that simple, the execution has to be as near to perfect as possible else all you’ll notice is the simple story. Well I’m pleased to say writer / director S. Craig Zahler executes this movie superbly. The pacing is deliberate, characters are too. It feels like everything everyone does has some great reason behind it, even a simple straightening of a jacket has a sense of purpose.
The cinematography is superb, the desert is seen for what it is, brutal and barren. Zahler’s placement of cameras throughout at varying heights and almost quirky places keeps things fresh and interesting.
The feel of the movie is, during large sections, that of an Oscar contender, jumping from still close shots to wide shots of the same scene. But Zahler adds so much more as the movie has touching moments, gruesome moments, bone crunching moments and even quite a few laughs.
The performances throughout the movie are brilliantly understated. Russell is on fine form as the Sheriff, curt at times (excuse the pun), obviously intelligent yet you sense a man who would prefer life without conflict, happy at home tending his sick wife. Wilson gets perhaps the meatiest role as the cripple Arthur. A badly broken leg meaning we get to see a whole range of pained expressions yet a primal desire to track down his wife.
The light relief comes in the form of Richard Jenkins with his old-man Deputy Sheriff Chicory. A non-stop talker yet likeable character who’s eager to please and more than eager to do anything Russell sets him to do. Fox plays the bad-guy-good-guy shooter, going toe-to-toe with Russell and showing he’s more than capable.
Perhaps the one and only criticism I can apply to the film, and I’m really having to nit-pick here, is the dialogue. I totally understand the reason for the short, sharp bursts of it. No great conversationalist amongst these characters. And the one-liners, for want of a better phrase, are fantastic, things I can imagine people quoting for a long time. However it does start to feel like that’s all they are. One-liners. Said because they sound great (which they do), not necessarily because they move the story on. However, as I said, I’m digging deep to find anything here.
We don’t get many Western’s these days, the heyday is long gone. However the one’s we do get tend to be well thought and very well made, think Open Range or Tombstone. I’m happy to say Bone Tomahawk sits comfortably with them.
It’s not for the faint-hearted: gruesome and bloody at times with some inventive death scenes however, if you don’t mind that, you’re in for a real treat!
Bone Tomahawk opens in the UK on the 11th December and is out now in the USA.