Never A Bad Time For A Good Western: Bone Tomahawk

Kurt Russell, Bone Tomahawk-680         I love
Westerns, and while they have taken a dark turn in recent years I’m still
attached to the genre…so when Doug Benson recommended that I see Bone Tomahawk with Kurt Russell to
discuss on the latest episode of my podcast, I was happy to oblige.

I respect and admire Quentin
Tarantino, but this modest feature leaves The
Hateful Eight
in the dust. It’s provocative, original, extremely violent
and extremely good. The film had a brief theatrical release last fall and is
now available on Blu-ray and VOD; you can watch a behind-the-scenes featurette
and a q&a from last year’s Fantastic Fest on iTunes. Even better, it’s been
nominated for Best Screenplay at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards.

         It’s hard to
believe that filmmaker S. Craig Zahler has never directed a feature before. I
can only presume that his screenplay attracted the first-rate cast that
populates the picture. The characters are well-drawn and colorful; each one has
an individual way of speaking, with Richard Jenkins taking home honors as a loquacious
back-up assistant deputy. Zahler and cinematographer Benji Bakshi make
excellent use of their locations and sets, and at no time does the film seem to
suffer for lack of production value.

Lili Simmons-Patrick Wilson-680

         Kurt Russell
sports a lived-in look as the elaborately bearded and mustachioed sheriff of a
sleepy town incongruously called Bright Hope. There is nothing bright about the
goings-on in and around this community, as Russell learns when several people
close to him are abducted. He sets out on a quest to bring them back, along
with his aged deputy, a sleek, seemingly heartless gunman (Matthew Fox) and an
earnest cowboy (Patrick Wilson) who’s impelled to go even though he’s suffering
with a broken leg.

         These four
unlikely allies have their work cut out for them: they have been warned that
the kidnappers are likely a ferocious cave-dwelling tribe of troglodytes.

         I hesitate to
reveal more than that. I should warn you that there are elements of horror and
even supernatural in the film, and some scenes are startlingly graphic. Yet by
the time they occur, writer-director Zahler has drawn us in completely and
given us an emotional stake in the fate of his characters, so nothing seems
gratuitous or exploitive.

         The supporting
cast features a number of familiar faces, some of whom you might miss if you’re
not paying close attention: David Arquette, Fred Melamed, Sid Haig, James
Tolkan, Kathryn Morris, and Lili Simmons (from the TV series Banshee). But it’s the commitment of the
key players that gives the film its gravitas.

         I plan to
follow the career of S. Craig Zahler, who has several unproduced screenplays to
his credit. I might even read his Western novels A Congregation of Jackals and Wraiths
of the Broken Land
. But for now I’m happy to be a proselytizer for his
debut feature.

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May 2024