Way-out western with bite
BONETOMAHAWK Directed by S. Craig Zahler. Starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Sid Haig, Sean Young. Cert 18, gen release, 132mins When two no-good, murderous highwaymen (Haig, Arquette) desecrate a Native American burial ground, the repercussions are quickly felt in the ironically named town of Bright Hope, where the forgetful ‘fraidy cat deputy sheriff (Jenkins) and the hilariously sardonic doctor’s assistant ( Banshee’s Lili Simmons) are carried off into the night.
It falls to her hobbled husband (Patrick Wilson, soon subject to barbaric medical interventions and sweltering infections), the hard-nosed local sheriff (Russell, naturally) and a mercenary “injun”-hunt- er (Matthew Fox) to rescue them from their mute, peopleeating kidnappers. It won’t be easy.
There comes a moment in S Craig Zahler’s thrilling horror-western when Kurt Russell’s Sheriff calls out to a screaming companion as he is butchered by Native American troglodyte cannibals. He winces as the “bunch of godless savages” hack away at parts nobody wants to see hacked.
Care to re-read that sentence? Kurt Russell winces. Kurt. Russell. It’s a bit like watching John Wayne dive behind a couch.
Ultraviolence aside, there’s plenty to admire about this innovative genre-bender. Bone Tomahawk is a meta-fiction, replete with banter about “manifest destiny”, running commentary (“This is why frontier life is so difficult,” quips reliably lifeless Leslie Mann, but each of the others is an ornament to the era.
Look at Rebel Wilson chewing her quips to mush and spreading funny sex about the place. There’s nobody better than Alison Brie at quizzing the world with a lopsided brow. Dakota Johnson has survived 50 Shades of Grey – two hours as the world’s dimmest punch-bag – to hone a shy hipness that might impress even her formidably cool grandmother (that’s Tippi Hedren, if you haven’t been paying attention).
The lewd Wilson and the faltering Johnson form a gorgeous complementary the kidnapped Simmons. “Not because of the Indians or the elements. But because of the idiots.”) and a commendably crazy closing ballad ( Four Doomed Men Ride Out) co-written by the director.
The film is sly enough to function equally well as an old-fashioned Kurt Russell shoot-‘em-up: or rather, shoot, partnership that causes one to long for them to be cast in a better movie. The sequence in which they stumble about the city, readying themselves for the working day after a night on the town, surges with an anarchic momentum that earns the first-class punch line it eventually encounters.
What a shame the film is filled with such filthy reactionary lies. The title itself is a fib. You are, of course, not taught how to be single. One may as well expect mainstream Hollywood to teach you to make a dirty bomb from household supplies.
Christian Ditter’s film begins
Grizzled: Kurt Russell in Bone Tomahawk
if they’re lucky. The western, as we’re reminded on a near monthly basis, hasn’t gone away you know: rather, it survives in arthouse aspic (as in Slow West, Meek’s Cutoff, Dead Man). By mashing John Ford and The Hills Have Eyes, Bone Tomahawk reminds us what the genre once was, a durable relic of frontier life that could swerve between the song and dance of Cat Ballou and the genocidal horrors of Soldier Blue.
At 132 minutes, there’s plenty of Bone Tomahawk, particular given the characteristically winning economy of its headlining star’s performance; that stately pacing serves as the calm before the storm. Read the credits: heroes all. with Johnson parting from her boyfriend and embarking on a period alone in New York City. The rush for independence lasts about two minutes before we are once again cast back to the sexual politics of the Mughal Empire. Being unmarried is shameful. All social life is directed at sexual ensnarement. There is no middleground between permanent pairing and wild libidinous abandon (we must be either lobsters or bonobo monkeys).
In short, the one thing you are not allowed to be in this world is “single”.
It’s still better than Deadpool, mind.