When a town doctor’s assistant (Lili Simmons) is kidnapped by a tribe of ‘savages’, her enraged husband (Patrick Wilson), Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), his aging Deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and the volatile but skilled John Brooder (Mathew Fox) set out to rescue her.
And that’s it – most of the film focuses on their trek across the country and how the relationships between them change and improve… right before they are butchered by a group of troglodytes.
With a title like Bone Tomahawk, you might expect some hooligan cowboys gunning down some Native Americans in order to rescue a damsel in distress. Well, the characters are not hooligans, the captors are not viewed as Native Americans, and the damsel is more intelligent than all of them.
Russell is really in control, but Patrick Wilson gives the most fixating performance by far. He convincingly expresses his helplessness and anger, his torment and misery, over the loss of his wife in a way that the other characters never truly understand. You are full of sympathy when you see his battered body hauling itself across the hills fruitlessly, driven by the small hope of seeing his wife again.
This is S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut, yet by and large he manages the narrative with extraordinary patience and maturity. Time is taken to explore all the characters before trouble hits and there are several amusing conversations between them. It’s the kind of slow pace and intelligent design we now expect from high quality Westerns, and Zahler ticks all the right boxes.
That is, until they do hit trouble. When the film reaches its climax the reins are let loose… far too loose. What was a clever and fascinating journey turns into a bloody, mindless mess and the execution will make you throw up a little in your mouth.
This is a shame, because up until then Bone Tomahawk surprises you with its empathy, detail and suspense. Sadly needless horror almost manages to ruin what was a masterfully controlled story.
Gage Skidmore; Flickr.com