Cinematic Releases: Brimstone (2017) - Reviewed

Dakota Fanning sheds the innocent youthfulness of her early career by leading an unimaginably painful journey in the 19th century period piece, Brimstone. Cut from the same cloth as other female led films like Cold Mountain, this cinematic entry is commandeered by the main character's struggle against evil men and their hard lined intentions to inflict harm in the name of religion.  

Featuring scenes of bloodied whippings and bondage, stirring themes of incest and sexual perversions committed against children, tongues being sliced off, and an overall sense of dread against the old world backdrop of a country under the rule of full male dominance, Brimstone is a hard watch that fully pushes the envelope. Director Martin Koolhoven offers a distinct vision of a reality we've never experienced but should be widely aware of.

Brimstone is a brave film that doesn't hesitate in its attack on religious zealotry while it rides a fine line that borders on absolute exploitation. There are moments of gore and violence towards animals. And the overtones of sexuality with young children are almost unbearable to watch at times. However, Guy Pearce does such an excellent job capturing the best onscreen villain since Bill The Butcher, it's almost too easy to overlook an unsettling narrative that offers us a preacher with a sickening taste for young girls. His performance as The Reverend is easily one of the best of his career and will hopefully reset him as a choice actor when it comes to these types of antagonistic roles.

Dakota Fanning is simply great in Brimstone. Playing a character that cannot speak, she has an easy time acting with her physical movements and visual expressions. Coming off the Twilight saga and numerous other movies that limited her as an actress, this character study allows her to shine and take on her first serious lead part as an adult. Koolhoven uses her to a perfect degree, assisting her in redefining herself as a serious Hollywood actor. Don't get me wrong. Fanning has always been a good actress, but here she really has a chance to move into new territory as a dramatic lead. And it works. Throughout the non-conforming timeline of Brimstone, we see her grow and change as she crosses the line from victim to perpetrator of hardcore vengeance.

The power of Christ compels you. Wait. No. The power of Pearce compels you. 

Early on in the year I'm usually not the excited about a release. However, in the case of Brimstone, I'd be lying if I didn't say this will be a major sleeper hit especially with those that love Westerns. Coming off the horror/Western high of Bone Tomahawk, Brimstone delivers on many of the same elements. It moves slowly but goes in for the kill whenever it's necessary. The characters are fleshed out just enough to get us connected with their journey. And the realistic brutality of the pain that's marked all over this movie may be brooding and hard to look at, but it's all relevant to the tale that's being told. Again, the tones of violence towards children will be far too upsetting for some. Victims of physical abuse will probably not be able to process Brimstone considering its far too effective scenes of vile behavior. 

If you're a fan of films that can capture the essence of the old world U.S.A. where lawlessness and abandon were only outweighed by mean men with the burden of Christ pulling them down into a pit of debauchery and perversity, check this one out. This film will probably spawn discussions for quite some time. At a nearly two and a half hour run time, we only don't get enough of Pearce's Reverend. What feels like it could almost be the brethren of Night of the Hunter mixed with the large scope of There Will Be Blood is the closest to a perfect motion picture as I've been in years. Sadly, Kit Harrington's role is of limited support.