Brimstone review – Guy Pearce outrageously operatic in grisly and gripping western

Pearce reaches Nicolas Cage levels of menace as he torments Dakota Fanning’s fiercely defiant homesteader in Martin Koolhoven’s freaky thriller

This epically long, lurid, violent western from Dutch film-maker Martin Koolhoven has a kind of Tarantino-ish prolixity and narrative ingenuity. Despite its very indulgent length, it never bores.

Three intriguingly arranged chapters keep you wanting to know more – but the fourth and final segment relies on an outrageously unconvincing “escape” scene and a sheriff’s arrest that needs to be explained with a POV-shift flashback that does not entirely make sense.

Dakota Fanning
Dakota Fanning Photograph: PR

It’s maintained by a kind of beady-eyed fanaticism in the performances and the story’s freaky Old Testament transgressions. In a pioneer community of Dutch settlers in the old west, Liz (Dakota Fanning) is a mute woman, married to a decent widower, stepmother to his headstrong boy and mother to a little girl of her own. She is much admired for her skills as a midwife. But Liz is terrified when a new hellfire preacher comes into town to take up his job in the pulpit: the gaunt and scarred Reverend, played menacingly by Guy Pearce.

Where has this sinister man come from? It’s a question disturbingly but tacitly answered by the grisly end of the second chapter: the silent inference is one of the film’s best effects.

Fanning has a fiercely defiant presence and Pearce is a kind of low-decibel Nic Cage: an outrageously operatic performance, kept in bounds. It holds together for over two hours, before unravelling in the last quarter of an hour.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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