Anyone that had the pleasure of seeing Kurt Russell in Tombstone way back in 1993 knows that his return to the Western is a welcome resurgence. Though his role as John Ruth in Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight was the one everyone was talking about, another feature with Russell at the helm was working its way around the Festival circuit on a limited release. Where Hateful Eight was more a modern caricatured homage to the genre, Bone Tomahawk is a proper western and then some, embodying all of its best (and worst) features.
Russell plays Franklin Hunt; sheriff of the small town of Bright Hope. After an altercation with a mysterious stranger the town gets more than they bargain for when a group of cannibalistic troglodytes (think The Hills have Eyes) sweep through in the night, taking the mysterious stranger, town’s deputy and doctor with them. Bearing arms, Hunt and three other men (including the doctor’s crippled husband) set off into the deep West in search of the missing group without realisation of the horror they are up against.
At a lengthy 132 minutes, Bone Tomahawk shares the same feature with many classic Westerns in that it does become quite over-indulgent. For what is a simple linear plot there’s a lot of fluff and lingering walking scenes where they cover a lot of land but not a lot of story. For a group of men apparently racing against time, they seem to be advancing at a leisurely pace rather than a frantic dash.
Despite that indulgence in S. Craig Zahler’s script, he manages to tighten the screws when it comes to character development with all actors on song. Matthew Fox and Patrick Wilson are notable stand outs, but Kurt Russell is a scene stealer whenever he’s in shot. As the lifeblood of the film the man with the moustache shows he is still worthy of centre stage after 4 decades in the business. Franklin Hunt may not necessarily be on the level of Snake Plissken, but he’s at least in the same league.
Part of Mr. Hunt’s memorable stature comes from his involvement in the hyper violent climax that sees this Western transform into a slasher horror. That curve ball is as much a curious inclusion as it is an exciting one, but at least it provides the thrills that were sorely missing. Even with those moments it would be a strong push to call Bone Tomahawk anything other than a slow burner, but it’s one that does have its exciting moments. Fans of other character driven westerns such as The Treasure of Sierra Madre and the more recent Slow West will find something to love here, and with the inclusion of Kurt Russell leading the ranks there’s always an added bonus.