"This is going to penetrate."
Buddy and Pincus are drifters. They travel from camp to camp, ransacking and murdering their inhabitants. They stumble across a burial ground and hear an eerie sound. Pincus flees, but an indigenous warrior appears. Buddy takes an arrow to the face and dies shortly thereafter. Running and dying. There’s a lot of that in BONE TOMAHAWK.
Kurt Russell plays Sheriff Hunt. He oversees the town of Bright Hope, an ironic name for this particular tale. There’s nothing glowing about it, save perhaps for the many puddles of blood. After his town is attacked, and a stable boy murdered, he sets off to rescue a group of kidnapped townsfolk. The culprits are the natives from before. They are a nameless clan but are described as troglodytes (meaning cave dwellers). They are incestuous, and cannibalistic, and strong, and vicious and unrelenting. They’re basically unstoppable. The troglodytes demonstrate their considerable prowess early and often.
Russell is the guy for this role. He recently turned 65, and he still kicks major ass. It’s odd to think that your grandfather could beat you up, but looking at Russell with his animated eyes and excellent mustache, it doesn’t seem so out of the question. A small team joins Hunt on the excursion: Chicory (Richard Jenkins), an old, deputy sheriff; Brooder (Matthew Fox), a womanizing, educated man; and Arthur O’Doyle (Patrick Wilson), the town’s foreman. O’Doyle has a severely broken leg, but his wife is one of the captured. Crippled leg be damned.
Half of the film's running time is these four men as they journey out in the direction of the caves. Their backstories are irrelevant; we know of these men from their actions on this mission. They are all brave (and probably foolish), choosing to plausibly march towards their impending deaths. Brooder is probably my favourite character. Fox plays him as cocksure as possible. He's quick lipped, and even faster on the draw. Lili Simmons should also be mentioned. She plays Samantha O'Doyle, Arthur's wife. In a lesser film, she would be portrayed merely as a foil, but she's a strong, intelligent woman. Though captured in horrendous conditions, she uses her brains to aid in the possible escape.
The party (of course) encounter some trouble on the way. The story takes place in the 1890s, and what an awful time to be alive. Rattlesnakes and raiders are abound; potable water is a luxury. They sleep on the hard ground in three-piece suits, surrounded by a booby trap of wire with bells to alert of any wrongdoers. TOMAHAWK teaches us that even in the harshest conditions, there’s never a wrong time to look dapper. As assumed, O’Doyle’s hobbling holds the group up. They venture ahead and get some shut eye while O’Doyle catches up in the harsh heat. “Where are their horses?” you may be asking. Well, their steeds are not the only thing that don’t make it out alive.
Once the troglodytes are seen in full view, they are an imposing bunch. They’ve mutilated their bodies in a myriad of ways: piercings and various animal bones protrude from their skin. They don’t speak, but communicate in a manner that’s tonally appropriate and utterly unsettling. I’ve hinted at it, but there is death, and plenty of it. One in particular I won’t describe in detail, but rest assured, it’s as barbarous as you can possibly imagine (a live scalping is the least distressing part of it, to give you an idea of its ferocity).
This is a rescue film, and is as straightforward a story as you’re going to find. Too often plots are convoluted, and character histories are clouded with unnecessary exposition. BONE TOMAHAWK is bare-bones, yet its narrative is meaty and pulpy. Just be warned that the meat in this case is violently removed with its titular weapon.