Review: “Bone Tomahawk” Is Brutal and Entertaining



Title: Bone Tomahawk
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Posted July 20, 2016 by

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‘Bone Tomahawk” opens up with Purvis (David Arquette) cutting a man’s throat open as he and his friend Buddy (Sid Haig) have overrun a group of guys who they are now robbing of more than just their belongings. It’s an in-your-face opening that lets you know upfront that the violence in this film will be brutal. That there will be a lot of it. That you just need to not get impatient while Zahler builds a world for you, introduces you to the characters, and gets you invested. While the first three quarters of the film are slow in pace, they are rich in dialogue, comedy, and humanity. The last third of the film is full of violence (sometimes so real that it’s actually hard to keep your eyes on the screen) and overall bad-assery. Even though I knew that going in, I still wasn’t prepared for just how evil the cannibal tribe in this film was going to be.

‘Bone Tomahawk” is set in a small town that empties out of everyone but its inhabitants until the return of Autumn. That’s what makes a stranger out on a hill burying items and changing clothes so suspicious; especially when he decides to come into town to get a drink yet doesn’t want to play nice with the locals (This man is David Arquette’s character and you will know by this point in the film why he’s so shaken up and unfriendly). Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell) and his backup deputy, Chicory (Jenkins), come to see what this man is all about and end up shooting him in the leg when he tries to flee the scene. This may seem like a small moment in what ends up being a little over a two hour film, but it’s what sets the rest of the story in motion. While the actual deputy, Arthur O’Dwyer (played by Wilson), is at home tending to his broken leg, his doctor wife, Samantha (the talented Lili Simmons) must go to the prison late at night to attend to the stranger; staying with him to monitor his fever. The next morning, however, there’s a dead stable boy and Samantha, the drifter Purvis, and a young man who was watching over her, Nick (Evan Jonigkeit) have all gone missing.

Sheriff Hunt, his injured deputy Arthur, his backup deputy Chicory, and a quiet but apparently very dangerous man John Brooder (Fox) decide they are going to go save their own against a group of Troglodytes that they have never seen nor heard of before. They’re going to get more than they bargained for on this journey, and you’ll be right there with them every step of the way.

Like I said, the first two thirds of this film play out like a typical western with a lot of dry humor thrown in for good measure. Richard Jenkins, who I didn’t even recognize until the last shot of him in the film, plays the well-meaning but pretty simple Chicory and gives you someone to root for. He brings up subjects like what’s the best way to read a book in the tub without getting the pages wet, asks questions like do the Troglodytes think black people are poisonous and that’s why they killed the stable boy instead of capturing him, and takes people for their word which is usually false but makes him feel better. You can’t imagine him not dying early on and every time he’s in harm’s way you wish you could transport him back to the small town and the simple life he was living just days before. Matthew Fox felt like a weird casting choice at first, but he plays the part of the shoot-first-never-ask-questions Brooder to perfection. Patrick Wilson’s character was possibly the most interesting to me though. From the first moment we see him until the last, he’s dealing with a gruesome broken leg that’s only supported by blocks of wood on each side. He can barely walk yet tries to pretend there’s nothing wrong with him (it’s actually quite difficult to watch him walk in this movie as any dip in the otherwise flat surface tends to take his leg out). The interesting part though is while the other men in this film have succumbed to their role in life, Arthur O’Dwyer will never admit he’s not at full strength. He always has to appear ‘manly’ and only really lets his guard down when he’s by himself or alone with his wife. It’s that determination, however, that ‘I won’t let this beat me’ attitude, that actually serves him quite well.

Zahler crafted a zany script that works because everyone involved played it authentic. If anyone had been over-the-top or too caricature-y, this movie would have fallen directly on its face, but Zahler and company found the perfect cast for their out of the norm Western. Once again, the film is a slow burn and will throw a lot of dialogue at you to get you to love these characters, but don’t get too attached — it’s all about to hit the fan.


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