Martin Koolhoven’s 19th century American Western Brimstone premieres in competition Saturday at the Venice Film Festival. Dakota Fanning stars as a young mute woman, Liz, whose quiet family life is one day interrupted by the mysterious presence of a new minister in town, played by Guy Pearce.
It is soon obvious that he’s out to destroy her life by destroying all those she loves, and we slowly find out why as the film goes back in time in separate acts.
British actor Emilia Jones plays a young Fanning. And Game of Thrones regulars Carice van Houten, who plays her mother, and Kit Harington, who plays a mysteriously injured cowboy she decides to nurse back to health, hidden in the family’s barn, also star. Liz is continuously on the run but the reverend is never far behind.
For the director, the appeal of the film was in changing the common Western into a woman’s story. “As I was doing research, I found out that my whole idea of the old West was based on 50 percent of the population,” said Koolhoven. “Everyone feels like it was such a free time, that all things are possible, and you have this lawless land. But of course that was only true for half the population.
“Either she marries someone or she becomes a whore,” the helmer said of a woman’s options at that time. “Our whole idea of the Western myth is a completely macho idea.”
Fanning also was drawn to the pic for its strong female lead.
“That was one of the things that made me want to be a part of the film,” said the actress. “For any genre, it’s very rare to have a story about a woman in these times. It’s a lot of male-dominated films, so anytime I see a film that is really about the strength and the power of the lead female character, I’m always intrigued.”
She continued: “And the fact that it’s a Western, which you really never see a female take charge in a Western kind of film, that made it even more interesting, and definitely something that I had never done before, and something that I think will be different for audiences to watch.”
The experience also had another effect on Fanning, which is to explore the genre more as a whole. “I think now that I’ve been in a Western, it makes me want to explore watching more films like that,” she said.