Bone Tomahawk (2015) Directed by S. Craig Zahler. With Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins.
Director S. Craig Zahler proves himself one to watch with his debut big screen offering, Bone Tomahawk, a descent-into-hell western starring Kurt Russell as an unswerving small town sheriff leading three other men in a dangerous search for a kidnapped woman, which takes them into the godless badlands of the unknown. It doesn’t help that said woman has been snatched by a cave-dwelling band of cannibalistic Native Americans. This isn’t one for the faint-hearted.
A gruesome tone is established in the opening frames, which mirrors the introduction of the very first episode of Game of Thrones, inviting the audience to suspect a sense of something unnatural lurking in the back of beyond.
Sheriff Russell is joined by a badly incapacitated Patrick Wilson (it’s his wife that’s been taken), a barely recognisable Matthew Fox (remember him from TV’s Lost?) and the magnificent Richard Jenkins. They make for an incongrous bunch – less a hateful eight and more a hopeless four, yet their forced bond in the harshest of settings plays host to a unusual teaming that we can root for, despite the challenges they present to each other and us.
Wilson’s character is the audience, our latching-on point if you will – a wholly decent man willing to sacrifice himself for love, while a tough-but-fair Russell and a well-to-do Fox represent a struggle for male dominance. The old man of the group is Jenkins, whose eccentricity brings flickers of light amid a descending sense of desperation. All four performances add depth but two inparticular standout – Russell channeling an old-man version of his Wyatt Earp from Tombstone, and Fox with an eye-catching riff on Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday, complete affluent tastes, condescending manner and a quick trigger finger.
Two-thirds a straight-up western, one-third The Hills Have Eyes, Zahler not only directs with a deft understanding of old and new in his pacing, he also writes characters with a touch of wry incidental sprinklings, much like a well-behaved Quentin Tarantino. As shocking as the final act is (one hide behind the couch moment), the hazardous journey there builds the characters well, allowing us in enough to give a damn about what happens to them.