A western, with a woman at the heart of the story, is something we rarely see, but when we are graced with a rare gem it’s always the woman who is supposed to depict the helpless damsel in distress at the hand of sick, twisted single-minded men. This brutal bloodthirsty, religiously over toned and atmospheric tale almost fits the bill with a vile extremist Preacher but this time the bullied women may hot foot it on their toes but they sure pack an almighty murderous punch.
Broken down into Revelation, Exodus, Genesis and Retribution, Dutch director Martin Koolhoven enhances the deep American West period thriller, with an intelligent narrative structure, crafting the film into four chapters to tell the story of the mute Liz Bundy (Dakota Fanning), a mother and wife and also the towns kindly midwife, through no fault of her own she is unfortunate to lose two babies while helping women in childbirth when an unforgiving Preacher (Guy Pearce) takes up residence in her parish reigning down religious hatred, singling her out for his putrid wrath.
From this introduction laying the solid foundation the narrative switches chapter after chapter, going backwards to reveal exactly how Liz has come to be in the situation she finds herself when we are introduced to her, her traumatic and shackled life of mental and physical abuse as a child, imprisoned within a brothel after being sold by a family she mistakenly thought were helping her to the moment she gruesomely lost the ability to speak, all this happens whilst staying mentally stable with no psychological scars or revengeful tendencies to even sparking a flame. Even Guy Pearce’s Preacher pop’s up in each chapter commanding in his presence as the twists unravel in a subtle explosion, like a bad penny that just won’t go away.
Tediously stretched in its running time, each chapter is elongated into two and a half hours, certain periods are entirely enticing but these come in a mountain of peaks and troughs, which drops the interest only to wind you back in with a compelling turn and Guy Pearce’s powerhouse performance of such venomous hatred raising blood temperatures to boiling point. Fanning is expressive enough but her portrayal is a little mediocre, gliding through most scenes as a wet blanket through no fault of her own. A little more power and personality in the script wouldn’t have gone amiss in bulking out her character to really set the stage for the wronged woman beating the odds strongly set against her.
Koolhoven’s western is worth endearing through the bum-numbing stages not only for its uniquely intriguing plot which is a welcome diversion from the mainstream fodder but also for Pearce’s dominant, commanding and contemptible performance.
Brimstone is out on September 29th
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Martin Koolhoven
STARS: Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce
RUNTIME: 149 minutes