S. Craig Zahler ‘s debut film, ‘Bone Tomahawk,’ is not a usual Western. It is a Western, sure. But there are elements of comedy and horror added into this film that make it something more. It is a slow go to get to the horror elements of the film, with a 132-minute runtime. I’d say the bulk of the film is Western adventure tale. One can see the nods to classics of the Western genre, especially John Ford’s ‘The Searchers,’ which has almost the exact same plot: family members abducted by savages, and a search party goes out to save them. In fact, without the occasionally too heavy dialogue and almost too long runtime, the majority of ‘Bone Tomahawk’ could easily be an updated ‘The Searchers,’ just take out The Duke and insert Kurt Russell. But suddenly, towards the end of the film, things take a sharp curve elsewhere.
The voyage is long and full of obstacles for the rescue party to overcome. This is where 30 minutes or so could have been trimmed out of the film to make it more viewer-friendly. That said, it is filled with dialogue written so cleverly and amusingly by Zahler and performed by a stellar cast. The characters are fleshed out enough that the viewer cares what happens to them.
The villains of the film, the Troglodytes, take center stage in a gruesome final 45 minutes. The tone shift of the film makes for a wild ride. I really don’t wish to spoil the Troglodytes. They are shown as a mysterious clan. It is stated that they are definitely not “Indians” by the movie’s only Native American. Little information is given about them, which I love, but what is given to the viewer is enough to form an opinion. The viewer doesn’t really need to know a backstory, just enough to establish what this clan wants.
It is amazing to see Kurt Russell return to a Western film and even more amazing to see him on screen with Richard Jenkins. For me, Kurt Russell shines in this setting, and he executes this steely yet sometimes too serious aptitude for the Western genre playing this sheriff, who is used to the perils of frontier life, suddenly tested beyond anything he’s ever known. Richard Jenkins makes for a great bumbling comic relief role and almost steals the film. He makes the most out of his chatty dialogue and he owns his role.
There are some truly amazing actors in this ensemble cast, including Russell, Jenkins, and others such as Patrick Wilson and Sean Young. They all seem completely submersed into the film. There is even an appearance from Sig Haig. The story itself, along with these awesome performances, gritty, Western-style cinematography, and witty dialogue make for a good film. I’ve been waiting for the release of ‘Bone Tomahawk’ since I first heard the news of its production. I knew that my state would not be included in the theatrical release of the film, since we have no AMC cinemas. I was ecstatic to learn that Amazon and a few other online streaming services had it available for people like me. It is definitely worth watching.