Being able to deliver a good western isn’t easy, especially when most of the plots have already been brought to the screen. But, writer/director Martin Koolhoven takes a shot at turning the old west into a thriller that boggles the mind with its twists, turns and surprises and it works big time. His Brimstone stacks up against the best including Quinton Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant.
The film plays in four chapters each more diabolical than the first. “Revelations” opens the film that actually takes place three quarters of the way through the story. But don’t let that bother you as Chapter 2 “Exodus” covers the midpoint and Chapter 3 “Genesis” provides the credence for our main character’s astounding journey. Again, none of the order in which the story plays out distracts from the complete whole and actually makes the film more compelling that it would have been.
Brimstone centers on Liz (Dakota Fanning), a woman with two children and Eli (William Houston) her husband. During the first chapter she finds herself being hunted by a satanic Preacher (Guy Pearce) who’s out for vengeance. A very brutal man that believes only God can take a life, The Preacher is driven by lust, revenge and hatred. As each chapter ends we find Liz caught up in a whirlwind of fleeing her aggressor being followed by death at every twist and turn.
The movie proceeds at a fast pace from farm to brothel to lumber mill. Director and writer Martin Koolhoven develops his final characters early on showing their grit, determination, and fortitude as they enter and exit each of the chapters. He jolts the audience with the domineering of men in film and the shocking and brutal way they treat women, but all a set up to show the power of women when their back’s to the wall or embittered what life dealt them.
The film stretches nearly two and a half hours, but never get tiring keeping the focus on the compelling way the cruel and vicious west affected each of the characters in the movie. Creating a tough atmosphere Koolhoven show the darkness of The Preacher’s beliefs, the defenseless woman who inhabit the brothels, the vulnerable children who get caught up in the violence and the savagery of the old west.
The actors make it all happen and what amazing performances they give. Dakota Fannings’s role of Elizabeth Brundy, that opens the film as a farmer’s wife who has taken on a new life, gets a good measure of the shocking treatment. Like all the other women in the village, she’s beholding to their husband’s wishes. You get the feeling she’s already had an ignoble past and is trying to turn her life around. But when The Preacher re-enters her life, violence becomes abundant. Fanning shows how much she has matured in this role and should be recognized for it.
In a later chapter Emilia Jones takes over the reins of central character playing Joanna who gets sold off to a brothel. Here she learns about a tough life that she cunningly survives. Jones captures the young teen who uses her coy and cleverness to keep alive in some of the most dastardly, misogynistic and disturbing scenes. Jones puts her heart into the role showing she can act alongside the best.
As the degenerate, diabolical and dastardly The Preacher, Guy Pearce takes his character to the pinnacle of deplorable. He’s a tyrant in some scenes, an evil devil in others and most hated as a predatory rapist. Pearce must have dug deep to bring this vile person to the screen as the role calls for unbelievable hatred. He makes the film work with all the other characters bringing awesome support.
Brimstone has been rated R by the MPAA for brutal bloody violence, strong sexual content including disturbing behavior, graphic nudity, and language. The movie borders on NC-17 with the amount of brutality and scenes of appalling death. While it does tend to be extreme, other films that fit the mold include The Revenant, Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill and other successful productions of the ilk.
FINAL ANALYSIS: (For Adults). The film has the four important elements that make it excellent; outstanding direction, acting, story and cinematography.
Additional Film Information:
Cast: Guy Pearce, Dakota Fanning, Emilia Jones, William Houston, Carice van Houten, Kit Harington
Directed and written by: Martin Koolhoven
Genre: Thriller, Western
MPAA Rating: R for brutal bloody violence, strong sexual content including disturbing behavior, graphic nudity, and language
Running Time: 2 hrs, 28 min.
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Distributed by: Momentum Pictures