By far the greatest benefit of Craig S. Zahler’s general direction is that he doesn’t shy away from taboo subjects that are often not given the screen time they really deserve. Given that I’ve been on a bit of a Western kick as of late, Bone Tomahawk felt like a nice blend of modern innovations and classic tropes of the now deceased genre. Helmed by Zahler and starring Kurt Russell in his second Western piece of 2015, Bone Tomahawk is a solid enough homage that manages to slightly blur the line between creativity and respect for the genre.
After Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) hears that his wife has been kidnapped by a local tribe of Native Americans, he, Sherriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) and a small posse head out into the wild and unreservedly terrifying west in the hopes of finding her before it’s too late. It’s your standard style of storytelling, with the group dynamic riffing off of each unique character. The strong writing here is what brings it all together best, with some standout performances from Matthew Fox and Kurt Russell in particular.
For a debut, Zahler proves strong in a feature film that manages to blast through what can be expected of a director in his first major movie making experience. There’s a certain command that Zahler brings to the screen, one he manages to replicate rather well in his later works, that sets him apart from many of his contemporaries. His visuals manage to express tension around every corner, his lingering camera shots creating such an awkwardly uncomfortable atmosphere that it’s near impossible to look away.
From there, his direction and casting go hand in hand, creating a vibrant and typically tense environment. Given that this western trundles through the many tropes and cliché settings the slew of 60s pieces gave us, it’s no surprise that Bone Tomahawk has a fair few misplaced steps along the way. A couple plot details feel either irrelevant or not nearly fleshed out enough to matter, and Zahler’s direction (although truly great) feels very unpolished in some areas. At times it feels forced, the group dynamic never really coming into fruition outside of the expectedly forced and uncompromising camaraderie that follows.
At least Bone Tomahawk can be credited with giving newer generations the introduction needed to the Western genre; its release bringing about some unkindled love for the films of latter-day John Wayne, John Ford and Clint Eastwood. It did for me anyway. A real nice piece that provides us with the thankful premise of Zahler respecting and understanding a genre of film that has been left dormant for many a year. There’ll always be a place for Western movies, and everyone here works effective enough to make Bone Tomahawk a relentlessly violent and fulfilling film that has its fair share of issues.