Purvis (David Arquette) and Buddy (Sid Haig), two outlaws, are wandering through the desert when they happen across a tribe of hostile mountain dwellers. Purvis manages to flee from the ensuing violence, making his way to the sleepy Old West town of Bright Hope.
It's here that he runs into sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) at the local bar and, following an altercation which leaves him with a gunshot in the leg, winds up getting thrown into jail.
Alas, Purvis has inadvertently led his troglodyte pursuers to Bright Hope. Come the following morning, the town awakens to discover he's gone missing - along with the deputy sheriff (Evan Jonigkeit) who was watching over him and the local doctor's wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) who was tending to his wound.
Hunt soon realises what's happened, and resolves to head out into the foreboding mountains on a mission to rescue these abductees from what we're told are a cannibalistic tribe. Despite recovering from a nasty leg wound, Samantha's husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson) insists on accompanying him - as do elderly "acting deputy sheriff" Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and self-proclaimed Indian killer extraordinaire Brooder (Matthew Fox).
Setting out on their arduous journey, this ragtag bunch of men know that the odds are stacked against them. But it's their journey that forms the bulk of this thrilling, intelligent and surprisingly human film.
I say "surprisingly human" because I was sceptical when BONE TOMAHAWK first start getting hyped up. A 'cool' cast (which also includes the likes of Sean Young and Michael Pare); reports of it being a hyper-violent Western - in the wake of DJANGO UNCHAINED and on the eve of THE HATEFUL EIGHT; early reviews suggesting it was "funny", "gory" and "clever" ... I had this terrible feeling that this was going to be smug, Tarantino-wannabe hipster wank.
It's anything but. It's a relatively slow-burning film. It's never dull, but it plays out its essentially simple premise without haste. It's all the better for this, as writer-director S Craig Zahler takes time to let his characters breathe and his actors truly walk in their shoes. This becomes the heart of the film: genuine characters that we can believe and invest in.
The script is warm and true, with lots of subtle humour shining through via the complicated relationships that these men enjoy - as revealed in piecemeal fashion as events progress. There are standout monologues from each of the four male protagonists, none of which I'm going to spoil by recalling here: they are by equal turns amusing, moving and stoic. And never once does Zahler resort to Tarantino-speak. In fact, he's pleasingly faithful to the Old West dialect, and imbues his heroes with a polite grace which you imagine to be true of their era.
Production and art design are fantastic too. This is the real Old West, we feel, as grubby and whiskey-soaked as it is passively sexist and racist. Men are expected to be men at all times; some of the film's most powerful moments and when characters momentarily reveal the little boy beneath their outward tough exterior - before quickly pulling themselves together.
And then there is the much-touted violence. Yes, BONE TOMAHAWK gets gory. The grisliness is employed sparingly and is all the more effective for it. Amazingly, per the extra features, Zahler insisted on nothing but practical effects - even arrows flying into people's chests were done the old-fashioned way, caught live on camera while utilising thin wires to shoot said missive through the air. The results are fantastically entertaining. The troglodytes are formidable adversaries, their means of disposing of their enemies ruthlessly efficient and barbaric: Zahler doesn't shy away from the graphic details, but never wallows in what could be accused of being torture porn.
Zahler wracks up the tension almost insidiously. The 131-minute running time never feels like it's that length, because the story is perfectly paced and measured. By the time the shit really starts hitting the fan, the impact is all the greater for all of the expert dialogue and quietly observant moments that have preceded it.
In short, BONE TOMAHAWK is a joy. It's beautifully lensed (in California), flawlessly acted and cleverly assembled. The horror is secondary to the storyline, certainly, but that affords it more muscle once it comes. It works best as a character piece, perhaps, but watch it even if that doesn't sound appealing to you: I can't imagine many people being disappointed by what they see.
BONE TOMAHAWK comes to UK home video courtesy of The Works Film Group. They're releasing it on blu-ray and DVD; we were sent a copy of the blu-ray to review.
The film is presented uncut in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio and looks great in full 1080p HD. Proffered as a healthily sized MPEG4-AVC file, images are luscious and compression-free throughout. Colours, detail, blacks, texture, flesh tones, depth ... everything is spot on. The transfer offers a nicely filmic vibe throughout, while the intricacies present in close-up scenes - facial contours, hair etc - is most impressive.
English audio comes in a striking 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Intelligently separated channels ensure this is a clean, clear and consistent mix which represents dialogue just as well as the stirring score and sporadic moments of noisy violence. Optional English subtitles (for the Hard-of-Hearing) are well-written and easy to read.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, a pop-up scene selection menu allows access to the movie via 12 chapters.
Bonus features commence with an excellent Q&A session recorded on stage at Fantasia Festival. Zahler comes across as affable and modest, as well as extremely learned in the field of film - he quotes everyone from Peter Greenaway to John Cassavetes as influences. Also on stages are Wilson, Jenkins and co-producer Dallas Sonnier. This 34-minute accompaniment piece is excellent, offering insight into raising funds, the film's casting, the director's focus on performances over flashy visuals, the reasons behind choosing to make a horror-Western and much more.
A 10-minute Making Of featurette offers some decent on-set footage, along with more valid titbits of information from Zahler, Wilson etc - as well as the odd contribution from a laidback Russell too.
We also get a second Q&A segment, this time recorded at the film's UK premiere in London. This runs for 15 minutes and covers much of the same ground, but is still a worthwhile watch.
An excellent film receives the treatment it deserves on UK blu-ray, and therefore comes highly recommended.
Also available on DVD.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by The Works Film Group|
|see main review|