Richard Jenkins did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying back up deputy Chicory in Bone Tomahawk.
Now I must admit the first time I watched Bone Tomahawk, despite being basically told to watch out for Jenkins's performance, for quite awhile I was waiting for Jenkins to show up. Of course his character of Chicory appears early on, but Jenkins wholly disappears into his role. Jenkins is a fine character actor, and often matches the needs of the various roles he's tasked with no matter how small they may be. This one though, he goes above and beyond in his creation of Chicory, as he seems to call upon his inner his Walter Brennan or perhaps Arthur Hunnicutt in his portrayal of an old timer in the old west. Jenkins takes upon a haggard voice and all of his physical movement are slightly slow suggesting a certain effort that it takes just for him to move at the speed he does. Jenkins realizes many rough years that Chicory has had to endure in just the way he speaks and moves. The most remarkable part of all this is how natural Jenkins makes it all seem, since he just seems to be some other character actor that is older, or at least has not aged as well, as Jenkins. There's no visual effort or even the idea of seeing a performance. Jenkins simply is Chicory here, and even before he does any thing the mere set up Jenkins is already rather outstanding.
Jenkins though does not stop there as he not only becomes the Walter Brennan for the film, but he also must fulfill the potential needs of a Walter Brennan role for this western. Well that being he's just a bit of an old coot, but in the best sort of way. Jenkins is extremely endearing in the role as he portrays such enthusiasm in Chicory as he attempts to go about supporting the local Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell). Jenkins brings such a genuine pride in Chicory whenever he states his position as the town's backup deputy, who frequently tries to offer his opinion the Sheriff, which he always refers to as "the official opinion of the back up deputy". The eagerness that Jenkins brings to the role makes Chicory so likable, since he never seems overbearing either. Whenever Chicory steps up, including attempting to help the Sheriff stop a potentially dangerous drifter, Jenkins reveals an old guy trying his absolute best to help. It's hard not to love the old man in Jenkins's hands since everything about the man just feels completely honest, and there's not a forced element to his depiction, this quite an accomplishment in itself considering how different Jenkins is in this role to begin with. It's splendid work from the start, and it only gets stronger as the film proceeds.
When the Sheriff, the husband of one of the captives Arthur O'Dwyer (Patrick Wilson), a self-proclaimed Indian killer John Brooder (Matthew Fox) set off an a rescue, Chicory demands to come along as well. Just before he goes though there is just a wonderful small moment for Jenkins as he visits his wife's grave, and Jenkins so tenderly reveals the great loss to Chicory in just a few moments before he departs. On the journey itself Jenkins is terrific in realizing so well the eternal optimism of Chicory as they are basically descending into hell. Jenkins importantly keeps a light humorous touch, even in some rather dark sequences, by keeping Chicory's inherent kindness a constant. He's great in the way he finds a certain chemistry with each of the men. He brings just the utmost respect in his interactions with The Sheriff, suggesting Chicory's steadfast devotion to his duty. With O'Dwyer though Jenkins brings the right consistent kindness as he always reflects Chicory clear concern for O'Dwyer's personal plight. The best though may come in his relationship with the philosophically opposed pessimist Brooder (whose name upon reflection may be a bit on the nose).
Anyways Fox and Jenkins are great together though in portraying the opposite ends of the spectrum. As Brooder mocks everyone on the mission, Jenkins is good in finding this believable resilience as Chicory never lashes out against Brooder. This is all except when Brooder supersedes the Sheriff's authority, and Jenkins is great by bringing some much passion in Chicory very specific disagreement with Brooder because he's disrespecting the law. It's splendid because it's not really anger that Jenkins expresses but rather almost a concern as he wants to makes sure he is fulfilling his duty as backup deputy. Jenkins never loses that bright outlook of Chicory's , and makes it even convincing that Chicory is even able to win over Brooder by the end. Jenkins makes this whole defining quality about Chicory work so well by being a consistent bit of sunshine in a film that only becomes darker as it goes along. Jenkins plays around with it just enough, and manages to derive some well earned humorous moments simply from Chicory's personal style, yet never makes the character a joke. In fact Jenkins manages to be quite powerful by offering such an empathetic presence with Chicory, as manages to find such poignancy with every loss in the film.
Jenkins's best scenes, which is saying something, come after part of the group is also captured by the cannibals, and basically put in cages, waiting their turns to be slaughtered. If there was a moment for Chicory to lose his hope this would be it, but he still does not fall into despair. Jenkins importantly does bring nuance to this still showing an underlying anxiety and sadness from the situation, but earns the optimism all the more by depicting the effort as he still looks for the silver lining. There leads to one especially amazing scene for Jenkins as Chicory talks about seeing a flea circus once, and stating his belief that the show was real despite being told otherwise. The conviction of this belief that Jenkins is so heartwarming, particularly when O'Dwyer's wife supports Chicory's belief, as Jenkins so genuinely presents Chicory's complete joy in finding some sort of encouragement for his mindset. My favorite moment of his performance, and I love em all, is when Chicory swears he'll avenge one his friend. Chicory obviously does not appears to be the most formidable man, but even in a scene of violence Jenkins manages to add a sweetness to it by portraying once against such undeniable earnestness as he fulfills his friend's final request of sorts. This is a brilliant performance by Jenkins in every regard. He not only crafts a wholly unique character, he manages to be both a marvelous comic relief and the soul of the film. It's downright beautiful work by Richard Jenkins and essential to the film as he becomes interminable ray of light within the darkness of the film's bleak world.