Whatever you do, don’t call them Native
Americans, or any less politically correct term. They are Troglodytes, an
ancient secret race of cannibals so brutal, they have been disavowed by all
Native Peoples. When they kidnap a cowboy’s wife, he will set off after them,
in the tradition of The Searchers.
However, he has no worries she might “go native,” because he is keenly aware of
her place on the menu in S. Craig Zahler’s Bone
Tomahawk (trailer here),
which opens this Friday in New York.
All the trouble starts when two knuckle-headed
outlaws go traipsing through a Troglodyte burial ground. Eventually, the
thuggish Buddy will make it to the upstanding town of Bright Hope, but his
sidekick Purvis will not. However, Buddy’s suspicious behavior and general bad
attitude will get him shot in the leg by Sheriff Franklin Hunt. Since they can’t
just let that get infected, they send for the medically trained Samantha O’Dwyer.
She had been enjoying a quiet evening at home, tending the broken leg of her
cattle-driving husband Arthur.
Inconveniently, when morning comes, the
sheriff discovers Ms. O’Dwyer has been abducted, along with the prisoner and
his legit deputy. Leg or no leg, O’Dwyer is saddling up and giving chase. The
duty-bound Hunt will ride with him, as will the roguish gambler and ladies’ man
John Brooder, who nurses a pathological hatred of Native tribes. Old Chicory
will also tag along. The old timer Hunt indulgently dubbed his “back-up deputy”
might not inspire a lot of confidence, but he did not survive the Civil War and
years on the frontier because he wasn’t resourceful.
It is absolutely fascinating to watch all the
hoops Tomahawk jumps through to make
it okay for a cowboy to shoot a sort of, but not really Native American. (Does
this mean the Toledo Troglodytes are now going to have to change their name
too?) Regardless, those Trogs sure are hard to kill, but the manly cast is
mostly up for the task, starting with the eternally cool Kurt Russell, who is
as grizzled and hardnosed as ever as Sheriff Hunt. It is too bad Hollywood
doesn’t make westerns as regularly as they used to, because the Hateful Eight co-star is a natural for
the genre, just like his father Bing.
Frankly, most of the film’s best scenes play
out between Hunt and Chicory, played by the ever-reliable Richard Jenkins as a
Gabby Hayes figure, but with dignity and common sense. He invests the Back-up
Deputy with so much tragic heft, he arguably takes ownership of the film. In contrast,
Patrick Wilson’s O’Dwyer is basically a wet noodle with a gimpy leg. However, as
Brooder, the heroic anti-hero, Matthew Fox absolutely gorges on the Paramount Ranch scenery.
With a running time
of one hundred thirty minutes (seriously, its over two hours), Tomahawk takes too dang long to get from
Bright Hope to the Troglodyte lair. Still, it is loaded with cool bits of
business, starting with Roger Corman repertory player Sid Haig doing his thing
as Buddy. The film’s respect for O’Dwyer’s abiding Christian faith is also
unexpectedly refreshing, especially since Wilson played the abusive Evangelical
in the laughably stilted atheist outreach film, The Ledge. Despite some pacing issues, Bone Tomahawk is still an entertaining excursion into weird west
terrain. Recommended for Kurt Russell fans and Deadlands players, Bone Tomahawk opens this Friday (10/23)
in New York, at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Cannibalism on film, Kurt Russell, Sid Haig, Western Cinema