S. Craig Zahler‘s shocking Bone Tomahawk (2015) is such a grungy, gory and searing Western that no one in the film is decent. Right? Wrong. Most (but not all) of the white people here are basically decent enough. Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) is good to his wife, his deputies and others, in addition to being manly and brave. Bravely does he search for the wife of another admirable man, Arthur (Patrick Wilson), after said wife and one of Hunt’s associates are abducted by cannibalistic Indians, unless only the word “savages” will do.
At first the Indians murder a black boy before doing their kidnapping. A bigoted but smart man named Brooder (Matthew Fox) joins Hunt, Arthur, and Hunt’s “backup deputy,” Chicory (Richard Jenkins), for the pursuit, eventually losing their horses but also finding the savages. Hunt and Chicory are taken captive. They witness a horrifying atrocity the savages do to a man.
The film lets us know that in the 1800s a physical search could be harrowing, especially if one of the searchers (Arthur) had a broken leg. Zahler, who wrote as well as directed the movie, conveys too that the civilizers were not always civil, but whatever the case they were among the barbaric uncivilized. They could not always survive them. Arthur seems to be a Christian, but in fact religion in such a world doesn’t appear to stand a chance. It does, yes, but doesn’t appear to.
Bone Tomahawk is not invariably credible. Hunt gets clubbed without suffering a bleeding head. And why do the seekers so easily lose their horses? However, this is minor: the film is artfully made and authentically acted (Jenkins and Russell are great). Although few Native Americans went in for cannibalism, like the savages in the film they often did scalp living people, among other very cruel things. Thus BT can be called ferociously honest.