Brimstone review: Guy Pearce leads the cast of this new movie from director Martin Koolhoven, one we’re calling ‘one of the most visceral and intense western thrillers of all time.’
Brimstone review by Ben Read.
The western has always been a fickle beast. Its quality, reliability, and durability, has been a source of strong debate for many years among audiences. While originally thought to have died out in the late 1960’s, the genre has seen a wonderful resurgence in recent years. This has lead to some excellent modern entries in the genre, such as 3:10 to Yuma and True Grit. However, with the genre still struggling to find itself a legitimate audience, how does Martin Koolhoven’s Brimstone fare?
First of all, this is a film that is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Where most western’s glorify and glamorise the shoot ’em up, Wild West element of the era, Brimstone takes a decidedly different approach. Koolhoven has instead chosen to reflect the time period through one of the grittiest lenses in modern cinema. This results in some incredibly graphic scenes of violence, which may shock even the most seasoned gore veteran. While this may seem over the top at times, it’s hard to ignore the beauty and style of Koolhoven’s visuals.
The film tells the story of a young woman named Liz (Dakota Fanning), on the run from a terrifying and vengeful priest (Guy Pearce) for a crime she did not commit. The narrative unfolds in an interestingly non-linear format, which takes place across four separate chapters. This method of storytelling may come across as a gimmicky excuse for an otherwise bland plot, but this does allow for some genuinely shocking and jaw-dropping twists.
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‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing’, a powerfully ironic and haunting statement made by the reverend during the films opening moments. While this is dangerously on the nose for such a grounded tale, it’s not difficult to see the real world parallels Brimstone is attempting to draw here. The cinematic irony of Guy Pearce starring in another backward narrative is also hard to ignore, but his performance is worlds away from the likable protagonist of Nolan’s early critical darling. Pearce, clearly relishing the opportunity to play such a vile character, quickly establishes himself as a gut-wrenching antagonist. The Australian star is in fine form as always, despite his character being a slightly underwritten and one-dimensional villain.
The real standout is undoubtedly Dakota Fanning, who delivers one of the best performances of her career. The former Twilight star began as a promising potential A-Lister brimming with potential but seems to have fallen off the radar in recent years. Thankfully Brimstone allows the talented young star to demonstrate her remarkable skills, in a role that has seemingly fewer lines than the Terminator. This is just a testament to Fanning’s excellent ability to convey emotion almost entirely through body language and facial expressions. Game of Thrones fans will also be overjoyed to see Kit Harrington in a suitably heroic and likable role. Although some may be disappointed to see that he never strays too far from his time as Jon Snow. This doesn’t allow Harrington to display anything new for audiences, other than a fantastic American accent, but is an enjoyable presence none the less.
It speaks volumes that a film revolving around the flaws and hypocrisy of religious authority has received such a mixed response from critics in the US. With the current state of affairs and political climate across the world, a western that reflects our increasingly toxic situation is just what the doctor ordered. Koolhoven has delivered an uncomfortably realistic take on the genre, that only begins to veer into far-fetched territory towards its conclusion. Regardless of this, Brimstone is blood-soaked with the fires of religious punishment, anger, and guilt, and will easily go down as one of the most visceral and intense western thrillers of all time. A truly unrelenting and unnerving experience that will leave viewers evaluating for days.
Brimstone review by Ben Read, September 2017.
Brimstone is released in UK cinemas on Friday 29th September 2017.