Bone Tomahawk: Movie Review

Bone Tomahawk is a fairly atypical western released in 2015 and written and directed by S. Craig Zahler. The opening scene immediately clarifies what type of movie this is: Purvis and Buddy (played, respectively, by David Arquette and poor Sid Haig) are two bandits who kill an unfortunate traveler and are in the process of scalping him. Suddenly, they must defend themselves from unknown, but lethal, assailants.

One of the two bandits, Purvis, manages to escape and finds himself in the saloon of a small town where the rude sheriff Hunt (played by the legendary Kurt Russell) shoots him in the leg and puts him in a cell without much ceremony. Unfortunately, those mysterious attackers have no intention of quitting their job halfway and a cell is not enough to stop them… They kidnap the bandit, the deputy sheriff Nick (Evan Jonigkeit), and the doctor’s assistant Samantha (Lili Simmons) and it’s up to the sheriff to put together a rescue team to save them.

The team couldn’t be more shabby: the old sheriff, his even older deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), the Englishman John Broooder whose horses were stolen by the attackers (Matthew Fox), and Samantha’s husband who has a bad leg, Arthur (Patrick Wilson). The mission is almost a suicidal one: a Native American living in town (Zahn McClarnon) explains that the attackers belong to a clan of cannibal cave dwellers who live in an extremely dangerous area…

And here I stop to avoid too many spoilers. The plot is a classic of the genre: there’s a group of heroes and anti-heroes, they’re on a difficult mission in a hostile territory, and they must face an implacable enemy. Nothing new, you may think. But Zahler breathes new life into a genre that has been explored far and wide but that advances one step more thanks to Bone Tomahawk. There’s a clear contamination with horror, since no violence is spared for the audience. Actions of unprecedented brutality take place on the screen, albeit always with a purpose: everything advances the plot, everything highlights how in the United States of just over a century ago violence reigned everywhere, and how today’s violence was born from that same violence. After all, the United States are always on top of the list of countries for the most deaths from gunshot wounds in peaceful times, for instance.

It’s interesting to note that the violence in this movie comes from everywhere: the native clan, of course, but also the sheriff (who shoots Purvis without being provoked), the white bandits, and also the apparently civilized Broooder who’s practically a professional killer… they are all violent persons! The atmosphere of the film is anything but relaxed, on the contrary: the whole movie is pervaded by a certain melancholy, a feeling that everything is wrong, that society is completely irrecoverable. Basically, the only honorable action is the sheriff’s decision to try to rescue the kidnapped.

The script is amazing, with sharp and credible dialogues that perfectly describe all the characters. The actors are absolutely perfect, and above all Kurt Russell is in top form. Actually, in the same year (and with the same look!) he worked on The Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino. There are plenty of scenes to remember, both in the finale and in the journey to the caves inhabited by the cannibals.

It’s easy to tell that there was a certain enthusiasm from everyone involved in the project, and the interviews of the DVD’s special contents confirm that. The screenplay convinced everyone from the beginning, or at least this is the reconstruction of the story made by those who then worked on the film. In short, this is a truly remarkable debut by director Zahler (and he was very lucky to be able to work with this cast on his first movie!). He then made two other films that I intend to watch: Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017, coming soon on this blog) and Dragged Across Concrete (2018). Ciao!

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