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“BONE TOMAHAWK” (Blu-ray Review)

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In an unexpected turn of events, BONE TOMAHAWK has gone from a film I very much liked yet had serious problems with to a film this writer just cannot shake. In honesty, there were some aesthetic issues with the film this writer felt- and to an extent, still feels- is quite problematic with the final production, as if scenes and set pieces are given almost too much room to breathe in its cinematography and sound design. Yet as time has gone on and this writer has revisited the film again and again (likely four times from start to finish since the film hit in October), BONE TOMAHAWK is a rather fascinating work of art, with a brilliant script, excellent characters and harrowing FX work, hampered only by an assembly of smaller problems in its craftsmanship as opposed to its storytelling.

In fact, upon revisiting the film on Blu-ray, it becomes more apparent exactly why BONE TOMAHAWK assembles such a strong cast on somewhat meager budget: S. Craig Zahler. Zahler, a writer before taking the mantle of director, offers almost a Mamet-esque sense of world-weariness and violence but set in the atmosphere of a horror-western. And rather than just “assembling a team” for the sake of offering a deus ex machina via the ensemble’s individual character traits, Zahler fleshes out our heroes into three-dimensional characters, whether it’s the traumatized ethnic-cleansing gunman played by Matthew Fox, the excitable yet determined veteran played by Patrick Wilson, or the sheriff-deputy combo of old codgers played by the badass Kurt Russell and a career-best Richard Jenkins. And cleverly so, BONE TOMAHAWK makes you wince when it brings the pain, knowing the character’s you care about are staring at their own potential demises at the hands of unthinkable savages.

BONE TOMAHAWK’s faults, however, lie in the Zahler’s directorial choices outside of the actors, although given the circumstances of producing an independent western, the choice was certainly his to make. In the film’s most star-studded scene, featuring our four principles as well as Michael Pare, Sean Young, Jamison Newlander, Fred Melamed and Zahn McClarnon, the camera feels unfocused, unsteady and unconcerned with who is saying what or why. During the scenes through the western planes and the foreboding pale mountains, there’s very few artistic choices to set the tone of the story or the emotions of the characters at hand. And while this certainly does its part to offer a more honest, realistic version of the old west, the lack of visual identity in the film makes the slower scenes drag until something more interesting in the script pops up.

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However, if there’s anything that can be said about BONE TOMAHAWK’s visuals in the new Blu-ray from RLJ Entertainment, it’s that Benji Bakshi’s cinematography is clear, deep and well-composed. The 1080p transfer really brings out the striking advantages of digital cinematography, especially considering how intense and immersive the film becomes in the third act. Furthermore, the 5.1 audio mix is absolutely fantastic, and will pay off well to those with impressive home theater stereo set-ups.

When it comes to the extras on this release of BONE TOMAHAWK, the good news is that the film does have a bit more than the average barebones genre Blu-ray that direct-to-VOD titles sadly are receiving. However, there’s not a wealth of features either, with the disc sporting a deleted epilogue (which, while clever, would have taken some of the gravitas out of the final moment), a 35-minute Q&A session held at the film’s premiere at Fantastic Fest 2015 and an unremarkable 10-minute making-of featurette. While a film like this could deserve a bad-ass collector’s edition down the line, especially once the film starts making the midnight circuit that it’s oh-so-destined to, these features are still much better than nothing at all.

Overall, BONE TOMAHAWK is not only a strong genre offering on Blu-ray, but a film worthy of your support as it’s a damn fine horror-western, a genre that simply is far too reclusive for it’s own good. Though the film has it’s problems and certainly won’t call to mind Kurt Russell’s other western film of 2015, BONE TOMAHAWK is captivating and gruesome in equal measure, and thanks to RLJ Entertainment, gets a solid standard Blu-ray release for fans and newcomers alike.

About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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