With its punishing 149-minute running time and relentlessly gloomy tone but ultimately principled moral message, Brimstone feels like a sermon delivered by an extremely cine-literate preacher. It is divided into four chapters, the first three arranged in reverse chronological order.
It tells the story of a mute young woman’s fight for survival in the 19th century American West, where an evil reverend seems hell-bent on making her life miserable.
Because the protagonists are played by Dakota Fanning and Guy Pearce and because movie fans are always looking for a fresh take on a beloved genre, there should be some interest for this impressively assembled drama, which was shot in various European locales.
But whether distributors can convince regular multiplex audiences to plunk down their hard-earned cash for almost two-and-a-half hours of doom and gloom remains to be seen. At least, Koolhoven deserves props for avoiding false advertising with his well-chosen title.
Following a prologue, Brimstone introduces Liz (Fanning), whose tongue was cut out. She has to speak in a primitive form of sign language, though she can hear people just fine. She’s a midwife with a young daughter who has married kind widower Eli (William Houston), who runs a small ranch and has a young son. Their peaceful lives are disturbed when a new reverend (Guy Pearce) rides into town.
The scars on his face already give him a sinister look, but when he utters his first line - “Beware of false prophets, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing”. from the book of Matthew - he does so with such seething malice that you just know he’s being conveniently autobiographical.
The otherwise nameless man, clad in black, blames Liz for the death of a baby she delivered whose head was too big, forcing her to make a split-second choice between the life of the mother and the child. But the decision about who gets to live and who gets to die, the reverend booms, “belongs only to God”.
To clear up any possible confusion, he tells Liz: “I’m here to punish you”. And for those slow on the uptake, Eli helpfully asks him “Why?” when the reverend sticks a knife in him. The man of the cloth replies: “Because she loves you.” Clearly, this is not a God-fearing man so much as a full-on psycho able to find convenient excuses for all his excesses in the Bible.
Unlike the story’s heavily Protestant and female angles, which bring something new to the genre, the score from Tom Holkenborg (Deadpool) is an old-fashioned orchestral affair, with swelling strings. Yet it's apt. - The Hollywood Reporter