Way-out western with bite

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY DON­ALD CLARKE

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.

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