Bone Tomahawk Review

I review the big films. I review the small films. I review films I or indeed no one else had a passing interest in because I feel I have to. And then we get to the films that I like the look of. The trailer for Bone Tomahawk had piqued my interest back when I first saw it in January, so how does the whole film do?

Bone Tomahawk stars Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins and Lili Simmons and is directed by S. Craig Zahler. The film follows Sherrif Franklin Hunt (Russell) in the Old West, who leads a posse to save Arthur Dwyer’s (Wilson) wife Samantha (Simmons) from a renegade tribe.

There hasn’t been a film to make me squirm in my seat like Bone Tomahawk did. I’m a fan of ultra-violence, things like The Raid 2, Only God Forgives, even to the really explicit stuff like A Clockwork Orange, I can stomach it. Bone Tomahawk almost lost me. The opening shot is of someone getting their throat cut open, it sets the mood for the rest of the film. The sound is what makes it so disturbing. While we do get a fair few shots of guts spilling out of people or bones poking through skin, the worst ones are the moments where we just hear the squelches and crunches of someone’s body being ripped apart.

One scene in particular made me look away from the screen, something I haven’t done since probably Sicario. I’ve been trying to think of how to describe it without it coming across as gratuitous, but I’m drawing a blank every time. Just think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre turned up to eleven and you’re on the right track. All the injuries are achieved with practical effects and the filmmakers just let loose with the gruesomeness. The film earns it’s 18 certificate and wears it proudly on its blood-covered chest.

Don’t think that blood and guts is all the film has to offer. The script is very funny, with the humour being very dark. I would compare it to Tarantino’s better work (without the genre styling’s, which is a point in Bone Tomahawk‘s favour) or something like Calvary. The character’s are cynical and know that death awaits them at every turn and so they joke to keep themselves going against insurmountable odds. They only character who seems to be happy throughout the film is an almost unrecognisable Richard Jenkins as the backup deputy Chicory. His rambling tales and quizzical ponderings over life’s mysteries are fun to listen to, and a fair few had the entire screening laughing. He discusses everything from why Mexican food is the best in the world to trying to figure out how to read in the bath without getting the book wet.

The bad guys are hardly seen throughout the film, only really shown until the very end. Early on, once Samantha Dwyer has been abducted, Sherriff Hunt is informed by The Professor, a Native American who lives in his town, that the people who abducted her are, to quote, “…not Native American. They are hardly human.” He describes them as Troglodytes, cave men who have a taste for human flesh. When the film does focus in on them, they have this otherworldliness about them. They shrug off point blank gunfire, they have tusks growing out of their cheeks and their battle-cries….damn those battle-cries. It made my skin crawl every time they tipped their head to the sky and roared. If this film doesn’t get nominated for make-up/costume and sound design at next year’s Oscars then it will be a shame, because I haven’t seen anything like the Troglodytes in recent memory.

The run time is over two hours, but I can’t think of anything I would want to cut. I like my films short, but Bone Tomahawk never felt like a chore to watch.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Point Break. When I left the cinema, I was ready to give up. That film left such a sour taste that I all I wanted in that moment was to give up reviewing films. Films like Bone Tomahawk remind me why I go to the movies every week and why I write my reviews. For those who aren’t too bothered by gore, this is your film.

Score: 10/10 Not one for the squeamish, but will become a cult classic.

Killing Them Softly Review

Preface

Killing Them Softly has been on my list of films to watch. I always see it on sale but never actually buy it, saying I’ll get it next time. But eventually, I went and got it after hearing great things about it, so here’s my review.

Review

Killing Them Softly stars Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta and is written and directed by Andrew Dominik. Based on the novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, the film follows mob enforcer Jackie Cogan (Pitt) as he is brought into solve the economic crisis that has hit the mob world.

While the original novel is set during the mid 1970s, Killing Them Softly updates the story to late 2008, using the banking crisis and the election of Barack Obama to parallel the main story in the film. This dual narrative is played throughout radio and televisions in the world, almost giving a subtle commentary that the mobsters and racketeers at the bottom of the ladder are just as sleazy as the bankers at the top.

Despite being tied to the banking crisis, the story almost feels timeless, with the clothing styles of the characters, the cars they drive and especially with the choice of music that plays throughout the film. The music flits between decades with songs like Johnny Cash’s “When The Man Comes Around“, “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong and “Love Letters” by Kitty Lester, making the film a mash up of the 2000s and of the early 50s and 60s. This reuse of music ties in with how the central story is about characters doing the same things over and over again, it’s a clever way to tell us, the audience, that this is just a routine occurrence and it’s a normal day for the characters on screen.

Brad Pitt is at the top of his game as hitman Jackie Cogan, a man who observes everything, doesn’t get involved and is somehow oddly delicate about his job of murdering people. As he remarks to Richard Jenkins during the film, when tasked with killing someone, he likes to “kill them softly.” James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta are the most fascinating characters, who are so high on their own machismo and place with the male-dominated world of the mafia that when they are in turmoil they start crying and wailing, turning into scared little children. Richard Jenkins plays the role he has done in a million other films, as the older man who has stuck around for longer than he should have, but his interactions with Brad Pitt in the film make up for the rather stereotypical casting.

I counted only four women in the film (two of which aren’t on screen, and the other two aren’t on it for less than a few seconds), all of whom are described or characterised by sex or their gender. It’s a film that focuses on the male characters and how they talk to each other and how they describe the women around them, showing that these men (unlike the more romanticised gangsters of years before) should not be looked up to and are rotten to the core. They are despicable, idiotic and diseased, but that makes the film even more enjoyable to watch.

For once, I don’t have to say the film was either too long or too short. Much of my criticism with films nowadays is that directors don’t know how to pace their films, leaving it over-bloated or insubstantial. Killing Them Softly only clocks in at around 90 minutes and it’s the perfect length for the film. Every scene feels like it’s been thought out methodically and has an actual reason for belonging in the film, whether it adds a little bit of back-story to a character or adds more to the puzzle of the story. The last part of dialogue between Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins is an excellent way to end the film by tying in the banking crisis storyline without becoming preachy, and the last line by Brad Pitt is like a bullet in the way in punches to the heart of his character and his motivation.

In conclusion, Killing Them Softly feels like it takes some of the most overused genre conventions of the gangster film but creates a completely different take on them. If you can stand the hateful characters, the explosive and bloody violence and the ever present swearing, you’ll have a blast.

Score: 10/10 One of the greatest gangster films ever created.