“Bone Tomahawk” is nearly a perfect movie. Kurt Russell has long been missed from the Western genre and he returns with panache. Playing a local Sheriff, he’s tasked with hunting down a group of white painted Native Americans who have kidnapped a few locals. In town, he bands together a local idiot, a mild sociopath and a relative of the kidnapped locals. Faster than you can say Howard Hawks, the crew sets out on a manhunt that will surely change their lives.
Matthew Fox steals a lot of focus as the Southern Indian Killer who is quick on the draw. Russell’s Sheriff Hunt is quick to chastise him for his impatience, but Fox knows what he’s doing with the role. Richard Jenkins and Patrick Wilson get the short end of the characterization stick. Wilson only gets to play injured and yearn for his missing wife. All the while, Richard Jenkins spends the film doing his best Walter Brennan impersonation.
The film could’ve easily had 15-20 minutes lobbed off of it. I get that they wanted to have a bit of character building, but the moments never happened. It would be like watching “The Searchers” and everyone hated each other. That being said, you’re watching the film for the third act. It takes awhile to build to the cannibal confrontation, but it happens with gusto. I always wondered what would have happened if American Westerns adapted the cheerful abandon of the Spaghetti Western instead of the dour 1970s revisionism.
Sure, we know that the cannibals are attacking because a local disturbed their burial ground. However, these are idealized savages from a time when the natives were still frightening. The lack of knowledge and primal approach of the Native Americans here isn’t meant to evoke reality. The native cannibals are otherworldly monsters who have distorted their throats, bodies and tools to become the stuff of nightmares. There is no reckoning with these cannibals, as they aren’t interested in the civilization that is coming to the West.
These barbarians are the serpents at the edge of the map. They’re holding a line and using their power to frighten back those that tread upon it. The fear that descends upon our heroes, as they stumble into the cannibals’ dwelling is palpable. I’ve yet to see more than two horror movies do that this year and a Western nails it. Stunning work all around from a first time director. It just could’ve used some trimming between the First and Second Acts.