A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Brimstone is an epic Western, but it's not an old-fashioned cowboys-and-horses movie. Instead, it's an extremely brutal, gory, gruesome story about an evil preacher who uses religion to justify his horrific treatment of women. Although the movie doesn't take joy in violence, the violent content is still extreme: Blood, gore, and death are everywhere. Characters are beaten, strangled, and whipped, and there's the suggestion of rape. Guns and blades are used; blood sprays, bone fragments fly, characters are hanged, and more. A teen girl is sold into prostitution, and a man has sex with a prostitute while staring at a young girl. Graphic sex is depicted, with full-frontal female nudity and partial male nudity (mostly naked bottoms). Disturbing sexual language is heard, are words including "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," "bitch," etc. Secondary characters are shown drinking and drunk, and characters occasionally smoke cigarettes.
What's the story?
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). Then, at the end of his 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 Bible quotes and has chosen his next target: Liz's daughter.
Is it any good?
Though this Western is interesting and artistically daring, it's far too brutal and sadistic (and far too long) to recommend for casual viewing; it requires strong resolve and a stomach to match. Brimstone is the English-language debut of Dutch director Martin Koolhoven, and it's quite a calling card, thanks to its four-part, backward-flashback structure and its epic, two-and-a-half hour running time. And both Fanning and Pearce seem totally committed to the story's hard, vicious quality, willing to go the distance for it.
But while the work is worth admiring, in a way, at the same time, it begs the question: How far is too far? The movie is clearly opposed to the violent treatment of women; instead, it condemns self-righteous, religious persecution conducted by men of the cloth. Yet it can't help depicting all this violence in gruesome, specific, soul-draining detail. For the movie's high level of unpleasantness and the queasy feeling it leaves in the end, the relatively small takeaway from the story doesn't seem worth the trouble.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Brimstone's extreme violence. Why do you think the filmmaker chose to show this much violence? What effect does it have? What message does it convey? Does exposure to violent media desensitize kids to violence?
How does the movie depict sex? Does it feel loving and meaningful or the opposite? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
Are there any role models here? If so, who, and why?
How does this movie compare with other Westerns you've seen? How is it similar/different? What makes a movie a Western?
- In theaters: March 10, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: April 11, 2017
- Cast: Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Kit Harington
- Director: Martin Koolhoven
- Studio: Momentum Pictures
- Genre: Western
- Run time: 148 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: brutal bloody violence, strong sexual content including disturbing behavior, graphic nudity, and language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.