Director: Martin Koolhoven
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce & Kit Harington
Synopsis: From the moment the new reverend climbs the pulpit, Liz knows she and her family are in great danger.
Rating: 18 Duration: 148 minutes Release date: 29 September (UK)
What can be done with the Western genre that hasn’t already been done? Well, for one thing you could turn your western into a horror film with biblical connotations and plenty of references to the good book. You can also cast Guy Pearce as a vengeful Priest on the hunt for Dakota Fanning’s mute midwife and set it against the backdrop of the 19th Century frontier.
Brimstone is a superb film and an entirely maddening one at the same time. Split into four chapters and lasting nearly two and a half hours, Brimstone will test your patience as much as it will dare you to believe this is one of the finest modern westerns made. There are times, the first chapter in particular where Brimstone truly sizzles and works better as horror than it does as a western. If the rest of the film continued like this, then I have no doubt this would be one the best films of the year. Unfortunately, over the course of the films 148 minute duration we are teased and prodded, but never given the whole package promised early on.
The other three chapters; Exodus, Genesis and Retribution carry on the religious references and Guy Pearce’s The Reverend is the devil personified in his pursuit of Dakota Fanning’s Liz. In a role akin to The Night of the Hunter’s Harry Powell, The Reverend is darkly charming and truly believes he has right on his side as he turns the local town against Liz and sets in motion an unrelenting pursuit which culminates in a sinister final confrontation. As the film draws to an end it dares to be brilliant again and once more feels like we are seeing something truly wonderful take place.
What grates most about Brimstone is its overly long running time. It may seem like an odd criticism to make, but the film muddles around for too long and despite a great opening gambit it falls into derivative & exploitative nonsense. Pearce and Fanning remain brilliant, but the objectification of women as whores to be used by men who pay money for them and thus can do whatever they like makes for uncomfortable viewing. I’ve no doubt this was a ruthless time to be alive, and people had to make their money in any way they could, but the unsavoury nature in which they are portrayed here feels more like poor execution.
There are plenty of elements at play here, and Brimstone will leave you with plenty to think about. But, the flow of the film often feels messy and frustrates more than it fulfils. While the acting by all is of the highest standard, there is not enough to keep the viewer engaged and the more weightier themes are lost as the audience loses patience. What starts off compelling and provocative instead feels more like wasted time and what could have been an impressive film, sadly feels mediocre.