Once again Guy Pearce stars in a film that’s told out of chronological order, this time a Dutch Western, told in sections, in reverse. Be warned, this is a controversial and no holds barred film.
Guy Pearce (Memento, The Hurt Locker) stars as The Reverend, a Dutch minister, over in the US of A to spread the good word. He’s brought his wife, Anna, Carice van Houten (Game Of Thrones (TV), The Fifth Estate), and daughter Liz, Dakota Fanning (Coraline, War Of The Worlds).
From the start, it’s clear that Pearce is unhinged. He believes he talks to god, has him at his beck and call and everything he is doing is in the lord’s name.
What he does is some pretty messed up stuff including beatings, killings and pedophilia. On their parts, both mother and daughter of Pearce suffer their own trials and tribulations at his hands.
Van Houten is put through the ringer as Pearce’s wife, enduring some shocking beatings and public humiliations, whilst Fanning tells her she would rather die than be anything like her mother and give in to her father.
Brimstone is written and directed by Martin Koolhoven (Winter In Wartime, Amnesia) and there’s no denying it’s a wonderfully shot, very dark and bleak western in the best way they used to be.
However, it’s certainly not without its issues. The first one being it’s far too long, coming in at some two-hours and twenty-minutes. It makes for slow viewing, which should add to the menacing air but can get frustrating.
The next issue is the usual movie ‘final half hour’. You know, that time when all loose ends must be tied up and things must come to a head.
This is where Pearce, who don’t forget is a Dutch minister, suddenly becomes more skilled than John Rambo. He’s able to cheat death, beat gunslingers and generally do whatever he pleases.
There are a few frustrating parts to the film in this manner. People who have the chance to do something to their tormentors, but instead stand around watching, or take action too late.
This can spoil sections of the movie. This is, after all, a western, or set during that period, and we now know that most people were shot in the back. Cowboys would dispatch people anyway they could. Not so in Brimstone.
The fact that the movie is told out of chronological order, going backwards, is an interesting choice by Koolhoven but I’m unconvinced it brings anything to the movie as it did with Christopher Nolan’s Memento, also starring Pearce.
What Brimstone does well is in thanks to the performances of its main characters, and the final twist is also a nice value add.
The performances throughout are top notch, Pearce in particular once again shows why he should be in more movies. Despite sporting his best Abraham Lincoln beard, he is in complete menacing mode as The Reverend and will haunt you for a while.
Whilst Dakota Fanning is also good, it’s actually younger Liz, knows as Joanna (becomes clear when you watch), played by Emilia Jones (High-Rise, Utopia (TV)) who is mesmerising.
It’s Jones who must portray our protagonist through some particularly harrowing times as she grows up with this menacing father. Her performance is brilliant and opposite Pearce, the two light-up the screen…in a dark, menacing and troubling way.
Brimstone is a well shot movie. The setting, the tone, the dark and moody colouring all work very well. However, at times it can be hard to watch due to pacing and the occasional frustrating bit of writing and the subject matter doesn’t help any.
This is apparently a passion project for writer/director Koolhoven (perhaps why his name appears above the title at the start, grates my gears things like that), who even turned down studio money to have full control. I think perhaps some studio intervention in this instance wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Brimstone is out in cinemas on the 29th September 2017.