Review: BRIMSTONE, One of the Most Brutal Westerns in Recent Memory

Contributor; Mexico City, Mexico (@ElMachoBionico)
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Review: BRIMSTONE, One of the Most Brutal Westerns in Recent Memory

In Brimstone, a Western that’s the English-language debut of Dutch director Martin Koolhoven, young actress Dakota Fanning amazes with her best performance yet, giving life to a character that since the first chapter (the film is divided in four) is revealed as unique.

Liz is a mute woman who, with the help of her little daughter, assists women in labor. While the setting is the Old American West, her life is relatively calm as she lives with her husband, stepson and daughter in a town that doesn’t seem to be as wild as one can expect. A  lot changes, though, when a complicated labor forces the protagonist to save the baby or the mother -- she ends up keeping alive the latter -- something the husband in question won’t bear; grief, alcohol and a gun are not a safe combination.

The initial chapter also introduces a very mysterious character, the new reverend in town (played by a fearsome Guy Pearce) who immediately mixes religion with the stillbirth, blaming Liz for “playing God.” Fanning’s character, on the other hand, has been troubled since the arrival of the reverend and, in fact, accuses him of somehow causing the death of the baby. That’s how we have a striking beginning, in which perhaps there’s a supernatural element attached, as the almost omnipresent reverend torments the woman and her family, before the film opts for earthly and quite visceral violence, without leaving its mysterious tone.

Koolhoven, who also wrote the script, presents a nonlinear narrative that, through its second and third chapter, takes us little by little to the genesis of the relation between the mute lady and the reverend, before picking up the actions seen in the first part, certainly once everything is in perspective. Leaving aside the possibility of the spectral aspect, the chapters that explore the protagonist’s past firstly show the brutality of a much familiar Old West – in which the duels between gunmen as well as the activity in the brothels never stop – to later go in depth into the home of a family of European immigrants where religion reigns and, at the same time, justifies the most vile actions.

Brimstone displays, from a female point of view, the brutal side of patriarchy in the Wild West, accepted due to the rules imposed in a specific place in convenience, obviously, of the patriarch. Our protagonist, we learn, lived in two different homes – but in several aspects similar – before losing the ability to speak and getting married. Her mother (played by Game of Thrones’ Carice van Houten) and the group of prostitutes that eventually took her in a brothel were silenced by the respective patriarchs (Liz’s father and the brothel keeper) each time they tried to disobey the rules that put them in service of the “Lord” and the eager customer, respectively.

Thus the film exposes without reservation the sexual objectification of women, as Fanning’s character started to experience hell on earth once she had her first menstrual period. In the words of her father, she became a woman. The cowboy played by Kit Harington (Jon Snow in GoT) is the only man who helped Liz prior to her married life.

Finally, with a snowy scenery that inevitably recalls such old and modern Westerns as The Great Silence and The Hateful Eight, Liz runs away and tries to protect her natural descendant from that past marked by sexual and physical violence that has managed to return, bringing to the picture a touch of pure horror. Brimstone is undoubtedly one of the most powerful hybrids in recent memory.

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brimstonecarice van houtencarla juridakota fanningguy pearcekit haringtonmartin koolhoven
  • ManateeAdvocate

    Wonderful to hear. The trailer had me stoked. This review and likening it to The Great Silence sealed the deal.

  • cjohnston

    *btw.*
    - - -
    just checked out an imdb for The Great Silence..... ...had never even HEARD of that before - till now -- .....(and) it is now on my 2c list, for sure..
    -
    Sounds JUST Like my cuppa tea.

  • cjohnston

    Hey there.. ...so. It's me again buzzing around your head..
    -
    Just one last thing. ..about this film then I'm out. ....not trying (or meaning as usual) to be a Richard. ...after that; POOF. - like the Girl -- I'm Gone and outta Your line of vision about this topic.
    *if there's a response though - i'll Happily respond if applicable...
    ~
    Namely; there have been (VERY) few films out there that I've seen that have actually been this Grueling and Emotionally taxing (+ Worthwhile) to get thru..
    ...the others that been an additional labor of Hercules. ..The Tribe, Broken Circle Breakdown, The Survivalist, A Very Long Engagement, 1,000 Times GoodNight, 10.000KM, I Smile Back, Meadowland, and Burning Man. (taking into consideration those two or three that often slip my mind..).
    *ALL these can DEFINITELY be considered recommendations as well.
    ~ ~ ~
    OK. that's it. ..about this. I'm out.
    *and Please don't unfriend me.. ha.
    -
    Hope stuff and things are Well with You Sir.
    - L8TR --

  • ManateeAdvocate

    The last film I found to be grueling (et. al.) to sit through was The Green Room. That film royally fucked me when "that moment" happened. I haven't been that jilted by a film and/or scene in many, many years. I'm not complaining mind you, just, um, pleasantly surprised that a film can still shock me in that regard - odd as that might sound.

  • cjohnston

    it's AMAZING.. .....GRUELING thru portions (as already stated); but quite Incredible, Beautiful, and Stellar..
    ~
    ..it's ALREADY on my year-end favorites list.. ...and i have NO CLUE how it'll get knocked off that hill. *doubt it could -- or will.
    ~ ~ ~
    *on a side note; have You (and yours..) seen Logan yet .?

  • ManateeAdvocate

    We have to wait for blu ray. My disability makes it hard to visit theaters.

  • cjohnston

    Well. ..I can't quite vote-up that ~ and I DO "up" and "vote" quite a bit..

    ...I -- am Sorry to hear about Your disability, as You make mention of... ..I Hope that I did not hit a "sore" spot with that in any way ~ and I Apologize of I did..
    ~ ~ ~
    on topic of Logan --- here's a little article I came across. ..while brief / ..not to mention a bit (disappointedly) light on the "meaty" side --- it's still an interesting little peep-hole into the relation / importance that some films are increasingly paying - towards the violent end of things.... (specifically this one references Logan and Deadpool -- if memory serves..).
    -
    It's disappointedly brief and in all likelihood could dive a bit deeper into this topic. ... ~ but it's an interesting brief read nonetheless of the ---- symbiosis *slash* powerstruggle that sometimes ensues with film(s) and what they chose to portray.. ... .
    http://www.csmonitor.com/Th...

  • ManateeAdvocate

    Not at all. I don't typically share that info as it just paints me as a sad sack looking for attention/sympathy. You and I converse enough via this venue that I thought that I would just give you a piece of information that explains why I no longer venture to theaters and therefore don't see films upon initial release. It's been long enough now that I'm able to avoid spoilers generally and, quite frankly, I prefer watching films at home at this point. I have Logan on pre-order so we'll watch it as soon as it arrives in the post.

    I'll check out that article. Thanks.

    I hope that you enjoy The Great Silence if/when you catch it. It's not for everyone, but I sure like it. I mean, you either like Spaghetti Westerns or you don't.

  • cjohnston

    hey there.
    ..here's another article I stumbled across ~ THIS one has a bit more meat on it's bones. ..albeit slightly different topic though.
    https://www.comicbookmovie....
    (it discusses why Logan is the B.EST comic book film out there. Period..). ..*to be fair - it's an undeniable editorial/commentary; but it's Interesting stuff nonetheless... ..
    ((and there ARE *Spoilers* in this particle article. ..)).
    ~ ~ ~
    ..for my own pennies worth of observation ~ Logan's in just about a Dead-Heat tie for "The BEST" comic book (strict def.) film out there for me..
    ...my other favorite, be DREDD.

  • ManateeAdvocate

    There's no way Logan is going to top Dredd. C'mon.

  • cjohnston

    is it LEGAL to agree AND disagree 100% here???? .!
    - - -
    *ughhh..
    ...my head hurts..
    -
    ......checking out of the discussion room for the night.
    ~
    til we speak again.
    - Be Safe. ..and have a Good one.. ---

  • Eric Ortiz

    I think is out now on VOD.

  • cjohnston

    Agreed.
    ..was Lucky enough to catch this one some time ago...
    ..GREAT film - and Engaging/ ..Interesting review here to boot..
    - - -
    ...Gutsy, Brawny, and Intelligent. ...and Grueling, for durations.....
    ~
    In the broadest (and loosest) sense of definition - HA. ... ~ ..this is easily one of my favorite westerns of the past ten or so years; along with the likes of The Salvation, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Renegade (Blueberry), The Homesman, Blood Father, Logan, The Keeping Room, Slow West, Young Ones, and Automata...

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