Saturday, April 2, 2016

Film Review: Bone Tomahawk

Y’all, I don’t even know where to start with this movie. First of all, let me say that I think it is a very well-made film. The dialogue is excellent, the pacing spot on, and visuals are stunning. S. Craig Zahler may be a first time filmmaker, but nothing about this picture says “amateur.” In fact, it is expertly crafted! The man should probably win an Academy Award (if not for directing, certainly for the writing—I can’t remember a recent movie that has such wonderful dialogue).
Like many good westerns, this is a slow burning film. The last thirty minutes or so are action packed. We’re talking edge of your seat type stuff. But until then we have time to really get to know the characters. That’s a good thing, because they’re aptly crafted. I particularly loved Deputy Chicory. I have no doubt Richard Jenkins should have won an Oscar for that role. Beyond Jenkins, the whole cast was stellar. Hey, it’s Kurt Russel in a western…you can’t beat that.

The action is adequately staged. Rather than large set pieces of major battles, we get tense, taut burst of violence. So, what’s my gripe with Bone Tomahawk? It’s savagely brutal. It’s not a huge spoiler to say the villains in this film are far from traditional. They’re cave dwelling cannibals (we find this out very early on, long before we actually see them).

Minor Spoilers Below…

We see a man split in two (this is after he’s scalped), and then consumed. Yep, that’s the level of violence we’re dealing with here. In perhaps the most disturbing part, viewers briefly see the women of the inbred cannibalistic tribe, pregnant, but amputated and blinded so they cannot escape. That didn’t sit well with me. It was effective, as I’m sure Zahler intended such a reaction. But it’s certainly not my cup of tea.

End Spoilers…

It has been described as a western-horror hybrid. However, I think it can be better described as traditional frontier tale that has a few horror elements. There is nothing supernatural in this film, and it does not fit into the “weird western” genre like Cowboys & Aliens. Some of the lines are outright funny, and there’s even some sentimental sweetness to it. A conversation regarding a flea circus is so well written, beautifully acted, and touching that one can't help but smile in the midst of all the carnage. Beyond this, the heroes are truly likable, and you’re rooting for them all the way.

Bone Tomahawk comes so close to being a perfect western! I almost added it to my cannon of classic oaters. In the end, the violence was just too off-putting for me. It’s too bad, though, as there’s a lot to love in this movie. James Reasoner recently reviewed the film, and he commented that he hopes S. Craig Zahler will try his hand at a more traditional western. I share those same sentiments. He darn near created a modern classic.

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