Kurt Russell has had a banner year that you might be able to call a comeback if it weren’t for the fact that the guy doesn’t phone in performances whenever he takes a part, and as such, has stayed gainfully employed through the ups and downs of modern Hollywood.
It doesn’t matter if he’s doing a light comedy like Overboard, a cheesy B-flick like Big Trouble in Little China, or a serious starring turn in Backdraft.
If a director lands Kurt Russell for the part, he’s going to get 100 percent.
Russell’s star has perhaps never shined brighter than in 2015 when he surged back into the mainstream Oscar contender category with another Quentin Tarantino collaboration, The Hateful Eight.
But while critics are figuring out where to place the film in the pantheon of QT and Kurt Russell films, there is one 2015 Russell vehicle that flew almost completely under the radar, and it’s the better picture of the two, not to mention one of the best films of the year.
That film is Bone Tomahawk.
Bone Tomahawk is a throwback to classic westerns. It’s a period piece that hearkens back in both characterization and plot elements to the genre’s best — The Wild Bunch and The Searchers immediately come to mind — but it also has some genre horror elements that are well deserving of the no rating.
There is a very good chance Bone Tomahawk would have picked up a NC-17 rating had it gone through the MPAA. Luckily, freshman writer-director S. Craig Zahler, in his directorial debut, figured “why bother” and kept the film’s violence intact.
Little, if any, of it is gratuitous, and there is a gut-punch scene in the film’s final act that you will know the moment you see it. The elements of western and horror are strangely contrasting, yet, unlike From Dusk Till Dawn, it never feels like you’re watching two different films. It is, for lack of a better phrase, seamlessly woven.
Kurt Russell plays Sheriff Franklin Hunt, who leads a hunting party of men in the search for a kidnapped female doctor. The doctor happens to be the wife of Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson in a role that can only elevate his leading man standing).
O’Dwyer insists on tagging along in spite of his broken leg. In addition to saving his wife from whatever entity has taken her, he is motivated on by the fact that one of the other men in the hunting party, Brooder (Matthew Fox), is a hated rival from his wife’s past.
Rounding out the unlikely bunch is Chicory (a phenomenal Richard Jenkins). Chicory is a lonely widower with a good heart, a simple way of looking at things, and has some of the film’s funniest lines.
As the men pursue the kidnapped doctor into harsh terrain, they come to realize that what they are dealing with are cannibalistic cave dwellers.
In the beginning, there is a hint that the cave dwellers may be Indian, but thankfully, the film kept from this potentially prejudicial through-line. These men (or things, it’s hard to say) are some of the most brutal and menacing creatures that you will see, and there is a real sense that our heroes might not be coming home alive.
To give away any more would be wrong, but fair warning: you do need to brace yourself for the aforementioned gut-punch. It’s a sequence you’ll never get out of your head, and one that has some reviewers on IMDb crying foul. Warning: read those spoiler-heavy opinions at your own risk.
One user may have said it best when he called it “Wyatt Earp meets Cannibal Holocaust.” It’s an accurate mishmash, but the hands guiding it and starring in it, Kurt Russell especially, are much more capable and give the film a great deal more legitimacy than those other two features — and that’s what makes it even more disturbing.
Have you seen Bone Tomahawk? Do you think it beat the other Kurt Russell western? Sound off in the comments section.
[Image via Bone Tomahawk screen grab]