How did a movie that can be boiled down to cowboys versus cannibals not get a full blown theatrical release? I know, I know, it is hard to fathom that an idea like that could somehow get its wide release as Video on Demand. Especially when that movie is as fantastic as Bone Tomahawk (the film only opened in 847 theaters but did $7 million in business). It’s right there in the title—Bone. Tomahawk.—the absolute promise of greatness (and yes the titular devices are utilized to great effect in the film.). Add to that awesome title and great premise a phenomenal actor—say like Kurt Russell, replete with his Hateful Eight mustache—and you have the makings of a heck of a film.
And it is! Bone Tomahawk is on par with the best Westerns of the last ten years. Russell plays the sheriff of the small town of Bright Hope. When a drifter comes to town, the sheriff is forced to shoot him in the leg when he tries to run. This particular drifter is on the run from a cannibal tribe of Native Americans whose burial ground he disturbed. When the raiding party of cannibals catches up with him at Bright Hope they steal some of the town’s horses, the sheriff’s deputy and the wife of a local construction foreman, Arthur O’Dwyer. O’Dwyer’s character is especially interesting because he is basically crippled from the get go, he suffered a leg injury that has left him with a handicap to overcome. O’Dwyer, the sheriff, his back-up deputy and the local badass gunfighter and dandy, Mr. Brooder, mount up and head after them. And that is it for plot. Simple and perfect, with lots of room to get to know our heros.
That is one place that Bone Tomahawk shines. It develops the characters, and allows room for us to really get to like them. The dialogue is a big part of this. Each man in the party has a particular affectation when it comes to speaking. This idea could potentially become comical or grating but it completely works here. It also allows for great comments like: “Mr Brooder just educated two Mexicans on the meaning of manifest destiny” after Mr. Brooder has just gunned down two men who approached the camp at night. This gem and so many more can be mined from the minutes spent watching. The culminating effect of these lines and the amiable nature of the group help us to understand and truly enjoy the time spent with these characters.
Along the way we are treated to some gorgeous cinematography. This movie is stunning. The nature of the Western lends itself to such views, but the creators of Bone Tomahawk use the landscape perfectly to strike moods for the characters and to accentuate the danger that the crew finds themselves in. This works perfectly with the film’s slow burn approach.
The danger making a film like Bone Tomahawk is that it can get campy quickly, especially if you were making a horror/Western hybrid. Thankfully, the film is a Western that just happens to have some horror trappings. These trappings are largely confined to a blood soaked final act that I found thrilling and totally earned. The setup was perfect and the result well earned and deserved.
I can’t say anything more about this film, as doing so would certainly spoil it. I shall instead leave it to you, reader, to seek this film out and spend some time with it. It is time you will not regret spending.