An unnerving Western with a sharp female perspective, this film is a series of gruesome surprises from Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven. Told in four chapters that unfold out of sequence, the film's brutality is almost balletic as it explores the horrors of this rampantly male-dominated society. It's also gripping, and the characters and themes are seriously haunting.
The main setting is a small desert town, where the mute Liz (Dakota Fanning) is the local midwife. She lives with her gentle husband Eli (William Houston), their daughter (Ivy George) and his son (Jack Hollington) from a previous marriage. Then a new Reverend (Guy Pearce) arrives in town, and immediately takes exception to Liz. As their feud escalates, the Reverend preaches hellfire and damnation messages specifically about Liz. He's also secretly stalking her and making threats that escalate into serious nastiness. But all of this is connected to Liz's past as a young girl (Emilia Jones) living in a brothel, and earlier with her mother (Carice van Houton) as she encounters a desperate fugitive (Kit Harington).
The further back we go, the more interconnected everything becomes, with unexpected revelations that link the characters. There are also huge plot twists and earth-shattering events that don't always ring true. All of this is anchored by Fanning in a remarkably alert performance that requires her to convey (or attempt to conceal) her thoughts and feelings with her expressive eyes. Opposite her, Pearce is practically twirling his moustache as the sadistic villain, a terrifying psycho without any other sides to him. Thankfully, he's surrounded by characters who are layered and fascinating, providing both a blast of earthy realism and some very deep emotions.
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She's a cute tomboy named Maddy (Kristen Stewart, Panic Room), a determined mountain climber-in-training who idolizes her dad (Sam Robards) and helps her overworked mom (Jennifer Beals). She's got two pint-sized buddies: Gus (Max Thieriot), a mini-Mr. Fix-It who loves go-karts and really digs Maddy, and Austin (Corbin Bleu), a crack technology whiz who also really digs Maddy.
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By my calculations - and this is far from scientific - Seagal appears in approximately 15% of his own scenes. The rest of the time, director Don Michael Paul uses quick-cuts, (very) large shadows and wide-angle shots taken from a distance to hide the liberal use of a body double. So why use Seagal at all? Is he really a draw? An effective marketing tool?
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