I want to talk to you about a problem I'm having.
Oh. Is this temporal or spiritual?
Are you here to talk to your sheriff or your bishop?
Indie suspense thriller set in a small Utah town populated almost entirely by Mormons. Written and directed by (and starring) Mormon filmmaker Richard Dutcher. Dutcher directed God's Army, a modestly successful 2000 indie shoestring budget flick about a group of Mormon missionaries living in L.A.
"a more artful, philosophically daring work than God's Army, but also what may represent the happiest marriage yet of the disparate propagandistic and narrative influences inherent in the subgenre of "religious" cinema."
"Brigham City" may indeed be the best film of this ilk (i.e., one that rekindles a long-dormant forum for the discussion of serious faith-related issues in the American cinema) since Michael Tolkein's "The Rapture" over a decade ago.
Plot: The sheriff of a small Mormon community previously untouched by violent crime searches for a serial killer.
Tagline: Nothing attracts a serpent like a paradise.
Dutcher has made a compelling thriller in which the protagonist and the setting happen to be steeped in the Mormon faith. The utter lack of irony, self-consciousness, theatricality, high gloss, or soft lighting on the use of religion/prayer in the film will be fascinating to non-believers, and will probably soothe the marginalized hearts of those who are believers. Prayer, faith, and the cohesiveness of a religious community are integral to the story, but in more of a genuine salt of the earth way than in a saccharine sweet way. It feels like real faith, real prayer, and a real community - which makes the film more powerful than it might have been if it had been made with Hollywood backing.
This is not Silence of the Lambs crossed with Touched By An Angel. Yet Dutcher's sheriff is reminiscent of a classic Western white hat, shadowed by an unrelentingly dark and sorrowful story. Some of the editing is terrible. Some of it is surprisingly good. The dialogue has its tin ear moments, the acting is often amateurish - but taken in its context, the film is a gem.
It is not, however, for those who get extremely sensitive and angry when they feel someone else is being religious in their general vicinity.
People who are very sensitive to being preached at will pick up some of that. And there are some things that will boggle the mind of the secular viewer - a passing reference to chastity before marriage, a character who falls under suspicion for (gasp!) possession of X-rated films and vanilla nudie pictures. There is a secular character - an FBI agent from Manhattan - who serves as the world's observer in the tale. She is portrayed as respectful in her resolute non-participation.
Some dialogue (i.e., "His new companion's kind of weird, but they got a couple of baptisms,") sounds clunky and weird to non-Mormons - or at least to me - but the lack of self-consciousness in the film makes that weirdness fade quickly. When the camera spends some time in a Bible study classroom, it is so the core question of the film can be asked: "Do we have to lose our innocence to gain wisdom?"
The question goes unanswered.
Brigham City has been adroitly compared to Blood Simple for its unaffected film noir appeal, but its success has been relatively limited, likely due to the overt religiosity of its theme and some of its content. However, the plot structure is not artificially elevated by religious mechanics, nor do any deus ex machina maneuvers save the film from its surprisingly dark ending.
Without giving too much away, all I can say is that ultimately - redemption is delivered by very human hands.