From the earliest days of Hollywood up until the late 1960s, Westerns were the most popular genre in film. But in recent years, Westerns have been few-and-far-between – when they have come along, it’s been because they had something new to bring to the table. But as the world has gotten darker, so have our films. The last truly successful Western was Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Unforgiven, an incredibly harsh and dark vision of the old frontier. But that shit ain’t got nothin’ on this one. The days of Bone Tomahawk are here, and it will take a lot for a new Western to top this.
Bone Tomahawk, which is out now on DVD & Blu-ray, is one of the darkest and most harrowing films of recent years – and easily one of the best Westerns ever made. Kurt Russell plays Sheriff Hunt, who must lead a posse into the wilderness to rescue three people from savage cave-dwellers. The journey is long and hard, and when they eventually reach their hell-like destination, they’re certainly not prepared for the sheer brutality they find. And that is much as I’m prepared to say about the plot. Bone Tomahawk is a film best experienced with no more knowledge than that – it’s probably even better experienced with no knowledge at all, but you’re reading this review so you clearly need some convincing first. So, how can I explain Bone Tomahawk’s power?
Firstly, Kurt Russell’s magnificent Hateful Eight beard returns. That alone should be enough to make you watch it. Need a little more convincing? Suit yourself… Russell puts in one of his bravest and most intense performances here and if you’re a fan – of course you are, who doesn’t like Kurt Russell – then you’ve got no excuse to not see Bone Tomahawk. Outside of Kurt, a strong supporting cast of Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins and Matthew Fox all deliver the goods. Wilson is great as the crippled Arthur who joins the posse as one of the kidnapped victims is his wife Samantha (Lili Simmons), Jenkins is adorable as the ageing deputy sheriff Chicory while Matthew Fox basically reprises his role of Jack from Lost by being a pretentious wannabe-hero arsehole named Brooder. I know what you’re thinking – “oh shit, I forgot Matthew Fox existed!”. So did the rest of the world…
Visually, the film is stunning. The bleak colour palette creates a feeling of dread from the off, while accurately connoting the colourless nature of the old West. Gone are the days of bright technicolour and John Wayne riding into town - Bone Tomahawk is a dusty old sight. But in this bleakness lies a haunting beauty, and an ever-building tension and horror.
I will say this – the final act does contain some pretty visceral and harrowing violence, some of the most powerfully hard-hitting I’ve seen in recent film. It’s made all the more powerful by the often uncomfortably slow and dialogue-heavy character driven build. A fuse is lit by the first scene, and it burns slow for two hours. But when it explodes, it’s the most powerful dynamite you’ve ever seen. If you have the patience, and the stomach for violence, Bone Tomahawk is truly deserving of your time.
Bone Tomahawk isn’t just the finest Western of recent years, it’s one of the best films you’ll find on DVD this year. It’s an incredible hybridising of multiple genres, and a marvellous update on the old-fashioned ‘posse’ plot. I said at the beginning of this review that new Westerns typically only come along when they have something new to the table. Well, Bone Tomahawk has smashed up the table and built a better one. It’s going to take a lot to beat this one. Bone Tomahawk might not have an enormous audience now, but this is one destined for cult classic status.
Bone Tomahawk is slow, harrowing and upsetting. But holy shit, it’s good. 5/5.
Bone Tomahawk at CeX
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