Brimstone (2016)


Brimstone is a 2016 western thriller film conceived, written and directed by Martin Koolhoven.The film stars Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Kit Harington and Carice van Houten. It was selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival.wikipedia


Brimstone Storyline:
A triumphant epic of survival and a tale of powerful womanhood and resistance against the unforgiving cruelty of a hell on earth. Our heroine is Liz (Dakota Fanning), carved from the beautiful wilderness, full of heart and grit, hunted by a vengeful Preacher (Guy Pearce) – a diabolical zealot and her twisted nemesis. But Liz is a genuine survivor; she’s no victim – a woman of fearsome strength who responds with astonishing bravery to claim the better life she and her daughter deserve. Fear not. Retribution is coming. Written by Anonymous 

Review by Boyd van Hoeij Hollywoodreporter :
Brimstone the first English-language feature from Dutch director Martin Koolhoven (Winter in Wartime), is probably best described as a Protestant Western. With its punishing 149-minute running time and relentlessly gloomy tone but ultimately principled moral message, it feels like a sermon delivered by an extremely cine-literate preacher. This very cinematic if not quite epic drama, divided into four chapters the first three of which are arranged in reverse chronological order, tells the story of a mute young woman’s fight for survival in the 19th century American West, where an evil reverend seems hell-bent on making her life miserable.

Because the protagonists are played by Dakota Fanning and Guy Pearce and because movie fans are always looking for a fresh take on a beloved genre, there should be some interest for this impressively assembled oater, which was shot in various European locales. But whether distributors can convince regular multiplex audiences to plunk down their hard-earned cash for almost two-and-a-half hours of doom and gloom remains to be seen. At the very least, Koolhoven deserves props for avoiding false advertising with his well-chosen title.

Following a prologue, Brimstone introduces Liz (Fanning), whose tongue was cut out and who thus has to speak in a primitive form of sign language, though she can hear people just fine. She’s a midwife with a young daughter who has married kind widower Eli (William Houston), who runs a small ranch and has a young son. Their peaceful lives are disturbed when a new reverend (Guy Pearce) rides into town.

The scars on his face already give him a very sinister look but when he utters his first line — “Beware of false prophets, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing,” from the book of Matthew — he does so with so much seething malice that you just know he’s being conveniently autobiographical. All it would take to turn his introduction into an Saturday Night Live sketch would’ve been a wink to the camera. Instead, Koolhoven (and the preacher) are dead-serious throughout.

The otherwise nameless man, clad in black, blames Liz for the death of a baby she delivered whose head was too big, forcing her to make a split-second choice between the life of the mother and the child. But the decision about who gets to live and who gets to die, the reverend booms, “belongs only to God.” To clear up any possible confusion, he tells Liz: “I’m here to punish you.” And for those slow on the uptake, Eli helpfully asks him “Why?” when the reverend sticks a knife in him. The man of the cloth replies: “Because she loves you.” Clearly, this is not a God-fearing man so much as a full-on psycho able to find convenient excuses for all his excesses in the Bible.

Across the first three chapters, “Revelation,” “Exodus” and “Genesis,” Liz’s life story is told backwards, with the viewers being taken from, respectively, her modest but happy life at the homestead with Eli and the kids to a small-town brothel where she was forced to work as a teenager and then to the farm where she grew up. Many fundamental questions are answered along the way, including what Liz’s precise connection is to the psychotic preacher, who Joanna (Emilia Jones) and another mute woman also called Liz (Carla Juri) are, and exactly how the protagonist lost her tongue.

But one of the main questions remains largely unanswered: What does the story gain by going back into the past in reverse order rather than being told chronologically? If anything, Koolhoven has painted himself into a corner because the film’s unifying theme, the maltreatment of women at the hand of righteous-acting men, takes much too long to crystallize.

It is practically absent from chapter one, in which Liz leads a happy family life that’s disturbed by an evil male protagonist only one step up from a cartoon villain because his motivation and backstory aren’t yet known.

In chapter two, the theme starts to surface but it is linked much more to the secondary female characters, including those played by Juri and Vera Vitali, than to Fanning’s Liz. The way in which Koolhoven shoots the bordello scenes also doesn’t help, since the story’s point-of-view is not close enough to the women. At times, this allows for the possibility that the film might be sympathetic to the women’s plight but also likes to indulge in the sight of seeing them naked and/or being abused. (This strange bipolar approach might have something to do with the director wanting to respect some of the codes of a genre that doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to female representation).

The third chapter, which kicks off more than 80 minutes in, finally ties everything together as viewers get to know the (unscarred and younger) reverend, his meek and deferential Dutch wife (Carice van Houten), his congregation of “chosen ones” and Liz’s younger self. It is only here that the behavior of the preacher in chapter one starts to make sense in hindsight, though his psychology finally doesn’t really extend beyond being a male, Calvinist and chauvinistic pig who has hijacked religion to explain away his own devious desires.

Release:2017-1-12 (Netherlands)
Runtime:148 min.
Genre:Mystery, Thriller, Western
Stars:Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Emilia Jones, Kit Harington, Carice van Houten, Paul Anderson
Overview:Liz, carved from the beautiful wilderness, full of heart and grit, hunted by a vengeful Preacher —a diabolical zealot and her twisted nemesis. But Liz is a genuine survivor; she’s no victim—a woman of fearsome strength who responds with astonishing bravery to claim the better life she and her daughter deserve.

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