Closing out Fantastic Fest 2015 with a Western starring none other than Kurt Russell himself was a stroke of genius on the part of the festival’s programmers. It allowed for a truly spectacular cinematic capper on a week of thrilling genre films, and simultaneously offered a great excuse for the closing night party to take place in an old western town on the outskirts of Austin. But enough about its programming slot… Bone Tomahawk is a classic, ensemble Western with a unique genre element thrown into the mix to set it apart and secure its place in the annals of the “never seen that before” hall of fame.
Because the whole Cinapse team who attended the festival closed out their fest with this film, we thought it might be fun to review the film collectively, with a bit of a free-for-all approach. Anyone can jump in at any time and rebut, concur, or bludgeon a fellow teammates’ thoughts of the film. So let’s kick this off.
Team, shall we begin by discussing just who the hell this S. Craig Zahler is and how he was able to lock in such an amazing ensemble cast for his debut feature as a director?
That isn’t to discount everyone else – Matthew Fox is easily the best I’ve ever seen him (I’m not sure that’s saying much, but he’s really great in this, with spot on casting for his role). Kurt Russell plays Kurt Russell, which is amazing as always. Rounding out the group of man’s men is Patrick Wilson, who is the weakest of the bunch, but is still solid.
The only thing that I felt was actively negative and harmful to the movie was the cinematography – it’s frequently nice looking but there’s a thick digital sheen over the whole thing that is incredibly alienating in Westerns in particular. Some of the framing you know should look warm and beautiful but it just doesn’t translate, and the whole time I was wishing it looked even 1/10th as beautiful as what Tarantino has been doing recently in Django Unchained and the upcoming Hateful Eight.
The sheer brutality of this film is kind of insane, and there’s one scene in particular that’s the most horrifically violent thing I saw all week at Fantastic Fest, which is no small feat. However, it never feels unnecessary or exploitative, and the careful work the film put into setting up the characters only makes the numerous injuries they suffer all the more effective.
But we’re all getting along a bit too well, so I’ve got to disagree with Brendan’s claim that the film is ultimately traditional. While it certainly follows a familiar arc, I felt that the film really follows its own path in a few key ways, particularly in who it casts as the protagonist. When you think “Kurt Russell cannibal Western,” you assume Russell is the hero, but the sneaky hero of this film is Patrick Wilson’s character, a crippled man who insists on coming along on the rescue mission after the cannibals take his wife.
The dude limping along behind Kurt Russell (and his glorious mustache) is a pretty atypical hero for this type of film, and in a more traditional Western, he would be the first to die. The film’s violence is also much less glorified than your typical Western, and even what would normally qualify as the big “hero moment” is pretty unglamorous and messy here. The deaths in this film are almost all painful and shocking, and there are several moments that make me wince when I think about them, the worst of which involves a searing hot flask placed somewhere it really shouldn’t be.
And if we’re lucky, each and every last fucking one of them will bring Kurt Russell along for the ride.
The film opens in limited release on October 23rd and the Cinapse team not only recommends it, but highly encourages you support this weird and wonderful little gem.
And We’re Out.