Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Emilia Jones, Kit Harinton, Carice van Houten, Jack Roth, Jack Hollington, Paul Anderson, Carla Juri, Vera Vitali, William Houston, Bill Tangradi
Written by: Martin Koolhoven
Directed by: Martin Koolhoven
MPAA Rating: R for brutal bloody violence, strong sexual content including disturbing behavior, graphic nudity, and language
Running Time: 148
Date: 03/10/2017

Brimstone (2017)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Preacher Feature

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though this Western is interesting and artistically daring, it's far too brutal and sadistic (and far too long) to recommend for a casual viewing; it requires a strong resolve, and a stomach to match.

In Brimstone, mute midwife Liz (Dakota Fanning) lives and works on a farm with her daughter, her stepson, and her loving husband Eli (William Houston). When the family goes to church, Liz is stunned to see the new Preacher (Guy Pearce); at the end of the sermon a pregnant woman goes into labor and Liz is unable to save the baby. The town turns on her, and the Preacher appears at Liz's home, ominous and threatening.

In flashbacks, Liz's story becomes clear. She escapes from an abusive home, becomes a prostitute at a young age, and eventually concocts a clever ruse to go into hiding. But, eventually, she must face the evil, sadistic Preacher, who justifies his monstrous behavior with his Bible quotes, and has chosen his next target: Liz's daughter.

Brimstone is the English-language debut of Dutch director Martin Koolhoven, and it's quite the calling card with its four-part, backwards flashback structure and its epic, two-and-a-half hour running time. In their roles, both Fanning and Pearce seem totally committed to the hard, vicious quality of the story, each willing to go the distance for it.

The work is worth admiring, in a way, but at the same time, it begs the question: how far is too far? The movie clearly is opposed to the violent treatment of women, condemning, instead, the self-righteous, religious persecution of men of the cloth. Yet it can't help depicting all this violence in gruesome, specific, soul-draining detail. For the high level of unpleasantness, and the queasy feeling it leaves, the relatively small takeaway from the story doesn't seem worth the trouble.

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