Four men set out in the Wild West to rescue a group of captives from cannibalistic cave dwellers.
“Tombstone” has to be one of my all-time favorite westerns, if not my favorite. Kurt Russell didn’t just get Wyatt Earp’s look and mannerisms down pat, he embodied them, and while I enjoyed Kevin Costner’s performance in the ill-fated “Wyatt Earp” the following year, he fell way short of Russell’s personification of the legendary lawman. In “Bone Tomahawk,” Russell plays Franklin Hunt, the sheriff of small Midwestern town Bright Hope. When his deputy, Chicory (Richard Jenkins), sees a stranger burying a large satchel in a hole in the ground one evening, he follows him back to the town’s saloon and informs Franklin of what he saw. Both men visit the saloon where the stranger, Purvis (David Arquette), is having a drink. After asking him some questions about the bag that he buried, he quickly tries to escape but Franklin shoots him in the leg.
He calls for Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons), the town nurse, to come to the jail and tend to Purvis’ wound. When she informs them that it is going to take some time, Franklin and Chicory go home for the night, leaving one of their younger deputies Nick (Evan Jonigkeit) to watch over them. Once morning comes however, all three are missing. When a nearby neighbor claims that his stable boy was hacked to death the previous night, Franklin and Chicory investigate and find an arrow embedded in his body, unlike any they have ever seen before. Franklin speaks with a local Native American Indian called Tall Trees (Zahn McClarnon), and shows him the arrow. He informs them that it belongs to a primitive Indian tribe called “Troglodytes,” known for their inbreeding and cannibalistic behavior and that they come out at night and can move stealthily and surreptitiously and warns Franklin that it would be suicide to try and mount a rescue attempt.
Ignoring Tall Tree’s advice, Franklin and Chicory set out to save Nick, Purvis, and Mrs O’Dwyer but her husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson), who is recuperating from a broken leg and has to rely on a crutch to move around, insists on joining them, despite his injury. John Brooder (Matthew Fox), a town resident and sharpshooter who has a personal vendetta against all Native American Indians in general, his wife and daughter having died at their hands, joins them on their mission.
As the foursome cross the plains and mountainous terrain, they encounter bandits, physical restraints, and internal limitations that they must push through if they are to stand a fighting chance against the Troglodytes. Kurt Russell’s Franklin Hunt is, essentially, his Wyatt Earp character twenty years later. He is authoritative, dependable, and absolutely the kind of man you want on your side. He will stand by you, he will die for you, but you must also prove your worth, otherwise, you may find yourself on the sharp end of a Troglodyte spear. Richard Jenkins as Hunt’s back-up deputy Chicory, is a welcome sight and serves most of the film’s humor. Instead of the young, strapping, and brawny second-in-command, Jenkins’ venerable senior citizen adds a touch of enlightenment and practicality, even though he appears to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Patrick Wilson as the crippled Arthur proves that even with his disability, true love prevails. Knowing that he is slowing the others down, he decides to travel ahead of them during the night when they are sleeping and rest during the day when they are traveling, so that there is some sort of even keel. Matthew Fox as John Brooder, a well-traveled man with a personal grudge, more than proves his worth but in the end, those who seem least likely to survive, prove otherwise. This scenario is executed so plausibly, in the hands of a less capable director, it might have come off as laughably predicable but S. Craig Zahler, in his feature-film directorial debut, proves very adept at creating authentic characters and genuinely convincing scenarios and with a top-notch cast under his direction, the film excels in every aspect.
Cinematographer Benji Bakshi captures the essence of what life was like in the Wild West, utilizing widescreen compositions, much like the old westerns by John Ford, Cecil B. DeMille, Sam Peckinpah and even Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner. The film succeeds on many levels but none so more than emotionally. The four main protagonists know each other and have done for many years but when the shit hits the fan, they immediately back each other up. They don’t have to ask for help, it comes naturally, even if some of them don’t like each other. That sort of camaraderie cannot be fabricated, it is either there or it isn’t and thankfully for our heroes, they have each other’s backs. There is very little violence throughout but when it does occur, especially towards the end when we finally meet the Troglodytes and are introduced to their brutal and barbarous methods, it is very graphic and not for the faint of heart.
“Bone Tomahawk” is bound to become a classic in every sense of the word and because this movie and Tarantino’s upcoming “The Hateful Eight” were shot back-to-back, it’s no wonder Kurt Russell looks exactly the same in each movie. If you are looking for a genuinely entertaining Western, bolstered by terrific performances and deft direction, and you have no aversion to gratuitous violence, then seek out “Bone Tomahawk,” you will not be disappointed.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray December 29th
For more info about James visit his website at www.IrishFilmCritic.com