Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Not many westerns get made these days. I can see why, as almost every plot device and storyline has already been used, on countless occasions. This recent film takes a familiar theme, and delivers a solid take on the time-worn story of rescuing people kidnapped by a tribe of Indians. You might immediately think of ‘The Searchers’, John Ford’s classic, I know I did. But this is no elegiac tribute to the Old West, filmed in spectacular surroundings. This is a realistic, often brutal film that is more about endurance and determination, than heroism or culture. Thanks are due to my good friend Antony, who sent me this DVD as a gift.
Kurt Russell stars as Sheriff Hunt, looking like an older and grizzlier version of his portrayal of Wyatt Earp, in the film ‘Tombstone’. The small town is very small indeed, the saloon almost deserted, and no sign of dancing girls, or blowsy prostitutes. Hunt is helped by Deputy Nick, (Evan Jonigkeit) and by a lonely old man, Chicory, (Richard Jenkins) who is tolerated as a ‘backup Deputy’. The scene is set by Hunt being seen as a no-nonsense, shoot first and ask questions later sheriff, when dealing with the suspicious drifter, Purvis. (David Arquette)
Elsewhere in the town, we are introduced to the grumpy foreman, Mr O’Dwyer. (Patrick Wilson) He is stuck at home, recovering after breaking his leg when fixing the roof. His pretty wife Samantha (Lily Simmons) is caring for him, happy to have him around. She works as assistant to the town doctor, and has medical skills. When Hunt wounds the drifter, he asks the vain town dandy, Brooder, (Matthew Fox) to fetch Mrs O’Dwyer to tend to the wound, leaving her and the prisoner in the care of Deputy Nick.
The following morning, the stable boy is found dead, his body mutilated. When they go to the Sheriff’s Office, everyone has gone, and a single arrow gives the clue that Indians were involved. The Sheriff promises O’Dwyer that he will search for his wife, and Chicory insists on going too. Then Brooder also volunteers, claiming to be an expert Indian fighter who has killed many in the past. Mr O’Dwyer also demands to go, despite having his leg in a splint. They have to search in a forbidding desert area, told that a cannibalistic ancient tribe live there, people who communicate in sounds, instead of a spoken language.
The film now begins in earnest, with the difficult journey, problems encountered along the way, and the hopeless task ahead for this disparate band of would-be rescuers. When they finally find the lair of the cave-dwelling savages, things do not go exactly as planned, and they discover a fierce and brutal enemy nothing like they expected.
I liked this film for many reasons. Looking past the hackneyed theme, the characters are well-defined, with solid performances from the whole cast. The atmosphere is very well done, with the desert scenes having a suitably spooky and threatening feel. The fact that the group of rescuers hardly seems to be up to the task adds more realism, and the fierce Indians they encounter are genuinely terrifying. Despite Kurt Russell not really trying too hard, Richard Jenkins impresses greatly, with his portrayal of the sad widower, Chicory. And once again, Patrick Wilson shows just how good an actor he can be, given the right role. What I liked best though, was that this film did not settle for a conventional ending, and delivers its denouement with some style. Here is the official trailer.