Bone Tomahawk


Kurt Russell knows how to make an entrance.

Kurt Russell knows how to make an entrance.

(2015) Western (RLJ Entertainment) Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons, Sean Young, David Arquette, Evan Jonigkeit, Fred Melamed, Kathryn Morris, Michael Paré, James Tolkan, Geno Segers, Zahn McClarnon, Brandon Molale, Jamison Newlander, Omar Levya, Eddie Spears, David Midthunder, Raw Leiba, Marem Hassler. Directed by S. Craig Zahler

Love can be wonderful; a tender feeling of caring and compassion. But love can also be a terrible burden. If it requires us to go somewhere dangerous, then we go, heart heavy and maybe even terrified, but we go nonetheless.

Arthur O’Dwyer (Wilson) and his wife Sam (Simmons) are deeply in love. They live in the small town of Bright Hope, on the edge of the prairie near forbidding hills where even the cattle trails that Arthur uses as a cattle driver fail to go. She’s a bit of a nag, not letting him forget that she warned him not to go repair the roof in the middle of a storm. Per her warning, he fell off the roof and broke his leg, forcing him into essential confinement to bed. This is the Old West, after all, and men did what they had to do.

Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell) also does what he has to do and that might involve shooting a drifter (Arquette) in the leg when he acts a little squirrelly. Because the town doctor is in his cups, Sam is summoned to remove the bullet from the drifter’s leg (she evidently has some sort of medical training). When she doesn’t return home, Arthur becomes a bit concerned.

Deputy Chicory (Jenkins) returns to the Sheriff’s office to discover everyone missing, including Deputy Nick (Jonigkeit). The evidence of a struggle includes a strange bone arrow at the scene. The local expert on Native Americans (Midthunder) tells them that it is from a tribe that isn’t even a tribe – it is in fact not exactly human. He refers to them as troglodytes and asserts that they eat the flesh of humans. He only knows they reside in something called The Valley of the Hungry Men.

A posse is formed. Sheriff Hunt is obligated to go, and even a broken leg won’t keep Arthur away. Deputy Chicory is ordered to stay behind but he refuses to; someone else can watch over Bright Hope while the Sheriff is away. Finally, dapper gambler John Brooder (Fox) also offers to go; he had escorted Mrs. O’Dwyer to the jail and feels obligated to assist in her rescue.

&Even on horseback it will take three days to get to the Valley if they can find it. The way there will be anything but safe, as bandits and bushwackers lurk in the hills. And when they finally get there, the men will be up against something they’ve never seen before – and are woefully unprepared to fight.

Russell is also starring in another Western opening up this winter, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and has found success in other Westerns – Tombstone comes to mind immediately. The plot has a little bit of The Searchers in it, but the similarity ends there; this is more of a mash-up between horror and Western than the traditional John Wayne horse opera.

Russell is at his best here, rough and ready in the saddle and apt to shoot first and ask questions later. His is the iconic taciturn lawman whose moral compass steers towards what’s right rather than what’s convenient. Fox, who is a decent actor who hasn’t yet equaled his role on Lost, does some of his best work on the big screen here, as does Wilson who has found a career boost in horror films like The Conjuring and Insidious. Here, Wilson plays to type but not just that; there is an inner strength to the character that is absolutely unexpected and mesmerizing. Arthur’s dogged determination and refusal to give up despite having a broken leg speaks volumes of what it means to be a man in the West.

And lest we forget the horror element here, it is more or less an overtone, although there is an onscreen kill here that is as brutal and as shocking as any you’ll see in more overt horror films this year. There is plenty of blood and gore and brutality, and those who are on the squeamish side are well-advised to steer clear.

Zahler is better known as a novelist and a musician as he is as a director, but he does a bang-up job here. There isn’t really a false note in the movie and while some critics have sniped at the length of the movie (just over two hours), it never drags and it never feels long. He also has wonderful cinematography to fall back of thanks to Benji Bakshi whose name should be on a lot of rolodexes after this.

It is unlikely the Western will ever go back to its level of popularity that it enjoyed back in the 1950s but it will never completely die. Movies like this one insure that the Western will always be around as a genre, and remind us that there can always be something new made of a time-tested cinematic formula.

REASONS TO GO: Well-acted. Exceptional cinematography. Captures the frontier mentality.
REASONS TO STAY: Excessive gore might put some off.
FAMILY VALUES: Brutal, bloody violence, sexuality, graphic nudity and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Russell authored a testimonial for Zahler’s second novel before this was cast.
BEYOND THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/3/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cowboys and Aliens
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: Chi-Raq

Advertisements

Small Town Murder Songs


Peter Stormare considers a rare non-villain role.

Peter Stormare considers a rare non-villain role.

(2011) Crime Thriller (Monterey Media) Peter Stormare, Jill Hennessy, Amy Rutherford, Martha Plimpton, Eric McIntyre, Vladamir Bondarenko, Aaron Poole, Ari Cohen, Trent McMullen, Erin Brandenburg, Kat Germain, Jessica Clement, Andrew Penner, Alan Penner, John Penner, Herm Dick, Alexandria Benoit, Mark Snowdon, Timm Zemanek, Jackie Burroughs. Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly

Who we are now is as much a product of who we used to be as it is the events that shape us. Growth is a linear progression although it might not always seem that way to the casual observer. There’s always a point B and there’s always a point A.

Walter (Stormare) is a sheriff’s deputy in a small Ontario town in Mennonite country. He is not well-liked in the community. Not long ago, he had a violent encounter with Steve (McIntyre) who his ex-girlfriend Rita (Hennessy) was now canoodling with. That was years ago though but nobody in town has forgotten or forgiven, although Sam (Plimpton) seems okay with it, in as much as she’s his girlfriend and everything.

It’s a pretty quiet town anyway, until a body is discovered, that of a stripper from the city. Steve becomes the prime suspect and Rita, who it is discovered placed the original emergency call, is hiding something. This is a case that is very, very personal for Walter and nobody trusts him one way or the other. Whatever happens, he’s pretty much screwed.

This Canadian movie might have been a gem – there’s a very Gothic feel to the action and the puzzle of the mystery has some real oomph to it. Walter is an engaging lead which is a big change of pace for Stormare who is best known for playing the bad guys, the heavier the better. Stormare gives Walter a patina of sadness, as if he had lived his life in a perpetual state of disappointment. It’s a fine performance and makes me wonder why he doesn’t get more leading roles like this but of course the answer is he’s so damn good at playing villains.

The cast behind him has some fairly capable performers in it but Plimpton stands out. Many will remember her from 80s movies like The Mosquito Coast and The Goonies but few will remember that she was an exceptional actress for her age and her portrayal of the bubbly, loquacious Sam is a reminder of how charming she can be.

Gass-Donnelly has a good pedigree but he shows a little bit of immaturity with his somewhat distracting overuse of slow motion. It seems that regularly someone is doing the slow walk through the lovely scenery of the bucolic small towns in Ontario where the movie was filmed. It happens often enough to be annoying the further you go through the movie. Also, some of the character motivations seem to defy rationality. We get that Walter has a short fuse but why he snaps into violence with him – particularly as they’ve established him as a good, decent soul – doesn’t really jive with the character.

Faith also plays a big role in the movie. Walter after his issues with Steve and Rita finds Christianity and gets baptized (which happens on-camera). Sam is a pretty religious sort and of course they are in a Mennonite community so their faith is definitely part of the overall background of the film. Those who are uncomfortable with such things should be warned.

This has some very nice Gothic overtones and while some of the movie’s deficiencies are a little too much to overlook, Gass-Donnelly is definitely a talent to keep an eye on as one of a group of strong Canadian directors with an interesting point of view. I look forward to seeing where he goes from here well, actually he went to The Last Exorcist 2 but that’s beside the point.

WHY RENT THIS: Fine Gothic feel. Compelling story. Stormare does some fine work in a rare good-guy turn.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Seems to be missing some pieces. Overuse of slow-mo.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence present, as well as some graphic images, sexuality and nudity, and a fair amount of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the final film for the veteran actress Jackie Burroughs.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The DVD when inserted into your computer will allow you to download one of the songs from the soundtrack.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $31,133 on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (unavailable), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (unavailable), Target Ticket (unavailable)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Witness
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Big Hero 6