*** 1/2 [3 1/2 stars out of 5]
Please forgive my shaky faith. But when asked to review Brigham City, an independent feature film by and about Mormons, I could only approach the task with guarded curiosity. I mean, we all now know that the Mormons throw a darn fine Olympics. And those clean-cut boys in their ties sure are perky without even a sip of cola to boost them. But something about an explicitly Mormon movie that isn't a CBC documentary about bigamy had left me somewhat trepidatious. For how often does mainstream religion successfully mix with mainstream art?
Shot on location in Utah, Brigham City was written, produced, and directed by Richard Dutcher, who is claimed to have created 'Mormon cinema' with his previous feature, God's Army. At first, Dutcher's film gives us every reason to roll our eyes. Not having enough to do, Dutcher also plays the lead role of Sheriff Wes, a soft-spoken lawman and Mormon bishop in the quiet rural community of Brigham. Early moments leave us unsure about whether it's Dutcher's story and acting that are flat, or just his character, who perhaps has been purposefully played with a monotone steadiness' befitting a long-suffering clergyman. Once his film's first plot-point sets up, however, Dutcher gives us just what we need to tag along. On a routine pass through town, Wes and his deputy discover an abandoned car with out-of-state plates, and then a body. With the help of an FBI agent sent to investigate, his secretary, and the town's retired sheriff, Wes must fulfill his conflicting roles as both suspicious Sheriff and supportive Bishop, and solve his town's first ever murder.
Dutcher does a reasonable job of unfolding his story with mounting tension, drawing us into suspenseful accusation of nearly every character we meet. Much more remarkable, however, is the dexterity with which he weaves themes of Christian faith into a classic murder mystery. By exploring the corruption of innocence by a harsh outside world, the film recalls Witness, the 1985 Harrison Ford thriller set in a community of Amish. And yet at its heart, Brigham City feels more disturbingly like David Fincher's Seven, illustrating the numbing existential ironies of one's best moral intentions. The serial killer's disturbance of his own naïve trust forces Wes to himself violate the trust of his community, to plumb from them even incidental secrets that were best left untold. Far from simplifying the path of faith, Brigham City asks horrifying questions about the accountability and responsibility of those who would defer to God.
Along with occasional moments of dubious acting and laborious pace, the film's FBI agent seems a nearly extraneous character, serving only as a foil for Wes; like Dana Scully, the sceptic of Mulder's little-green-men conspiracies, the agent is critical of the Bishop's blind Mormon faith. But rather than being its downfall, the film's delicate spiritual tone brings an unusual humanity to its simple drama, as when Wes calls on the couple from his congregation to tell them that their daughter has been murdered. Rather than alienating non-Mormons, Brigham City's religious values heighten our sympathy with the Bishop's spiritual trials and deepen our sensitivity to the evil that has invaded his sleepy town.
Turning to independent releases, "Brigham City" (Spartan) focuses on a quiet Mormon town shaken by the slaying of a California woman, which brings the sheriff (writer-director Richard Dutcher), his young deputy (Matthew A. Brown) and a retired lawman (Wilford Brimley) into contact with an FBI agent (Tayva Patch) encountering Mormon culture for the first time.
BRIGHAM CITY (PG-13)
Hard-to-swallow thriller about a serial killer haunting a small Utah town features writer/director Richard Dutcher as the local sheriff whose faith is not enough to end the horror. Dutcher is definitely the weakest link in front of the camera, and his overuse of the Mormon religion to make a point is particularly offsetting. While the material may seem a little dark for a film by a Mormon filmmaker, it's nothing more than a smokescreen to plug the director's agenda. This film is like those ponderous Armageddon flicks with Kirk Cameron, a sheep in wolf's clothing. The rest of the cast is better than the star, but they're never allowed to rise above the material. (Spartan)
Brigham City - PG13 - Richard Dutcher, Matthew A. Brown, Wilford Brimley, Carrie Morgan, Jongiorgi Enos... The sheriff of a small Utah community searches for a serial killer. Pretty cheesy B grade flick.
Brigham City (PG-13) 90 min. Not rated [by this newspaper].
Richard Dutcher directs and stars in this tale of the sheriff (and Mormon bishop) of a quiet Utah town. As the population booms, so do problems -- including the town's first murder. Like his first film, God's Army, this is a missionary story for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As sheriff, Wes Clayton (Richard Dutcher) has devoted his life to protecting the people of Brigham City, and until recently, that has mostly involved supervising parades and breaking up fistfights; as a bishop in their close-knit Mormon community, he's also devoted to their spiritual and emotional well-being. But both those responsibilities begin to weigh much more heavily on him when an abandoned car at the outskirts of town is found to contain the body of a murdered woman. A killer is among them, like a wolf among sheep, and Wes must make the troubling and difficult change from peaceful shepherd to wary hunter.
Brigham City is a polished, well-crafted thriller that balances an intelligent and interesting plot with thoughtful characterizations. The characters, particularly the main character of the sheriff, offer realistic and sympathetic portrayals of small-town inhabitants. Contrary to popular stereotype, small-town law enforcement officers aren't all pining for some "excitement" to liven up their dull routines; Wes is honestly concerned with protecting the people of Brigham City, and if he does his job well, he has very little work to do. When Wes finds the murdered woman, he's more than happy to hand over the case to the FBI as being out of his jurisdiction, out of a realistic desire to stay out of a high-profile criminal investigation that, as far as he is concerned, can only upset the balance of life in Brigham City. But when it turns out that the situation is more complicated and the lives of his citizens are at risk, Wes does his utmost to solve the case.
Brigham City is set in Mormon-dominated Utah, and the characters, apart from the FBI agents sent from Salt Lake City, are all Mormons. As the film shows us the characters and involves us in their lives, their religion becomes a continual, strong element in the story. It's tough to handle religious content in a film without "stacking the deck" for the viewer in one direction or another, but even in this touchy area, director Richard Dutcher handles the religious content extremely well. There's no attempt to present their beliefs as right or wrong; the story simply involves characters who have these beliefs. The characters themselves identify their small-town community as a "paradise," and it has undeniable appeal in many ways, but as stress is applied to the situation, we can also see the weak spots in the fabric, ways in which an element that is usually a strength (their sense of community through the church) can also be a source of weakness.
FBI agent Meredith (Tayva Patch) acts as a stand-in for the viewer in some respects, offering the presence of an outside viewpoint to those who aren't Mormon. The fact that this character is presented with the same tone as the other characters, and with equal respect, goes a long way toward establishing the general even-handedness of the film. The only quibble I would have with the religious content is that there are one or two scenes involving communion that are not entirely clear in their significance; someone who has some familiarity with the ceremony will probably get more of the nuances of the scene.
We can see in the film that the religion of Brigham City is more than a "Mormon" label stuck on to give some local color to the film; it deeply informs the way the characters live their lives and relate to each other, such that Brigham City would not be the same film if it were set in a different community. Similar, yes, in the sense that small towns share certain characteristics no matter where they are, but not the same. And that's an element that adds strongly to the appeal of Brigham City: it's highly individual.
I've spent a substantial amount of time here discussing the background and theme of Brigham City, without commenting much on the actual body of the story. It's essentially a crime thriller, a "whodunit" in a way, in which the entire town is a potential suspect for a crime that no one wants to believe that his neighbor is capable of. The storyline develops in an interesting and logical manner, with some surprises along the way; though the main focus of the story tends to be on the way the characters respond to the situation, Dutcher has quite creditably kept the plotline engaging and suspenseful all the way to the end. Drawing on the general atmosphere of paranoia that has developed among the characters, Dutcher throws out a few well-aimed hints as well as misdirections, so that the conclusion is surprising yet makes sense in retrospect.
Interestingly, Brigham City is essentially a one-man show, with Richard Dutcher not only the lead actor, but also the director, producer, and writer. That's no mean feat, considering that the film is very well-crafted; it will be worth keeping an eye on Dutcher for future productions.
Brigham City is presented in a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer at its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image appears to be entirely free of noise, print flaws, and edge enhancement, resulting in an overall "clean" feel to the image. Colors are vibrant and natural-looking, as can be seen especially in some outdoor scenes with early-autumn foliage and clear blue skies. Contrast is also excellent, with detail preserved in dark and dimly-lit scenes.
The major flaw in the transfer of Brigham City is its lack of anamorphic enhancement. It's particularly noticeable in scenes with heavy, patterned detail, like leaves on trees, in which there's a resulting distortion of the image; there's also a degree of blurriness evident in the background of shots other than close-ups. It's certainly an excellent transfer, but it could have been outstanding.
Viewers have the choice of a Dolby 5.1 or a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack for the film. The 5.1 soundtrack supports the film well, with dialogue coming across clearly and with appropriate depth throughout the film. The surround channels aren't used as much as they could be, but the overall effect is one that's pleasant to listen to.
In the special features section itself, we get a trailer and a cast filmography. There's also an audio commentary track from director/writer/producer/actor Richard Dutcher, but it's hidden in the "set-up" menu instead of the "special features" menu.
I hadn't heard anything at all about this movie, so I was very pleased to find that it was a well-made, enjoyable, and interesting film. Brigham City offers a fresh perspective on the genre of crime thrillers, one that takes a thoughtful approach rather than flying in with guns blazing, and that has enough substance to merit repeated viewing. I recommend picking up a copy.
Movie: *** 1/2 [3.5 out of 5]
Video: *** 1/2 [3.5 out of 5]
Audio: *** 1/2 [3.5 out of 5]
Extras: ** 1/2 [2.5 out of 5]
Extras: *** [3 out of 5]
Advice: Highly Recommended
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
[According to mrqe.com]
A quiet little Mormon town is suddenly thrown into a frenzy when the town experiences its first murder.
[You can listen to the actual review on the KSL website]
Brigham City (PG-13)
Doug *** [3 out of 4 stars]
Steve ** [2 out of 4 stars]
Melinda ** [2 out of 4 stars]
Average: 2.33 stars out of 4
Like it or not, Richard Dutcher is becoming the voice of the Mormon church in film. His first film, God's Army, and the new Brigham City seek to portray the LDS church in positive light. Yet, this still causes ambivalence from non-Mormon audiences. This is primarily because of the preachy nature of both films and the sub-par elements. The technical aspects of the film are decent. Writer/director Dutcher can produce a film, but he still needs work in acting and writing. A murder in the small town of Brigham drives Brigham City forward.
Sheriff Wes Clayton (Dutcher) is in charge of the investigation. He is also a bishop in his local ward (a church district). This is the first murder ever in Brigham, and Deputy Terry (Matthew A. Brown, God's Army) is eager to investigate. Clayton does not want any attention brought on his town. He wants to keeps things the way they are. An additional murder brings an FBI Agent (Tayva Patch, Before He Wakes) and begins ruining the small town atmosphere of Brigham. This is a standard murder investigation, but it is not fun to follow because Dutcher leaves out critical clues to killer's identity until the very end. This way, the identity really is a surprise, but not that good. There are plenty of red herrings, identified by the intense music that randomly appears. Brigham City is simply a television movie, with a Mormon influence.
The script suffers from a gross lack of reality, even for a movie. Clayton is an extreme xenophobe. Take away the religion and give him a drawl and this would be the stereotypical South. He wants absolutely nothing to do with the murder, going as far as telling people not talk about it. It is an 'ignorance is bliss' mentality that casts a pall over his character. Later in the film he tramples over the Constitutional rights of the entire town, and only two people seem to care. He is an bad shot, a bad investigator (solving the murder is as easy as putting two pictures next to each other), and as the twist in the end shows, an incompetent sheriff. A reluctance to kill is fine, but for a policeman not to even practice is strange. Casting Brown was also a bad decision. He is not an actor. He does not express emotions well (especially rage and sadness) and stumbles over longer monologues. If he keeps this up he'll be the Casper Van Dien of Mormon movies (only homelier). They both have a blank look on their faces that convey confusion (as opposed to mystery).
The fact that the people in the film are Mormon is not a problem. Scenes that show their religious influences working in their lives are not great, but are not horrible. It is a problem that Dutcher feels the need to throw in random scenes that show the religion. It does not add anything to the story or their characters (which says a lot since Dutcher seems to feel that character development means telling their life stories), but instead wastes time. He also does not present anything in its context, leaving communion, services, and prayers wasted on non-Mormon audiences. On a brighter not, Dutcher's intentions seem earnest. This gives his films a certain honesty in their presentation. This gives him a leg up on those horrendous Christian movies from TBN.
Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
"Brigham City" is a very unusual murder mystery set in a small town in Utah. The basic story isn't all that unusual, but some of the circumstances of the story, like the fact that the Sheriff investigating the case is a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is certainly unusual, if not unprecedented, in movies. The fact that this low-budget independent film, with lots of religious overtones, happens to be a well-made film is also unusual.
Religious films have been on the upswing in recent years with the success of "The Omega Code" among others, but many religious films are heavy on religion and light on entertainment. Many are not well-scripted or directed. "Brigham City" is both well-scripted and well-directed. It is well-acted too, by a cast with only one star, the venerable Wilford Brimley ("The Firm" and medical commercials on TV), who plays Stu, a crotchety old ex-sheriff. The real star of the film is Richard Dutcher ("God's Army") who not only wrote the screenplay and produced the film, but directs it and stars in it too. During the director's commentary on the DVD, he notes that he was often exhausted during the project. Small wonder.
Shot in several small towns in Utah, the film features some beautiful fall colors, including one of the opening scenes, when the county sheriff, Wes Clayton (Dutcher), and his deputy, Terry (played by Matthew A. Brown of "God's Army") discover the body of a murdered woman in a barn outside of town. Clayton moves fast to turn the investigation over to the FBI and to keep the whole thing quiet in town. "It's got nothing to do with us," he says. When another murder victim turns up in the middle of town. FBI agent Meredith (played by Tayva Patch) tells Clayton, "Congratulations, you have a serial killer in town." Meredith suspects there are earlier murders that were thought to be mere runaways.
Dutcher, still grieving over the loss of his wife and child in an auto accident, doesn't want to believe a monstrous evil has taken hold in his town. Stu tells him, "Nothing attracts a serpent like paradise." Clayton deputizes Stu and sets out to solve the murder his own way, including a house-to-house search of the entire town when another young woman goes missing. Clayton tells the search volunteers to pair up "like in the old days" referring to a time when they paired up with their missionary partners. Another plan involves getting fingerprints off the bottles from a local tavern. The whole town is on edge as the killing continues and Clayton and the FBI have few clues to go on. When all else fails, the small band of investigators turns to prayer.
The film does a good job of keeping the killer's identity a secret. There are some effective red herrings and one very nice misdirection scene. Despite the low-key nature of the film, it has its share of suspense. There are some good characters in the film, especially Peg, the sheriff's secretary (played by Carrie Morgan of the TV miniseries, "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town"). Dutcher, Brown and Brimley are also effective (Brimley's brother, Sterling Brimley, plays the town's mayor). Although the film deals with violent murders, it is not graphic in nature. It is rated PG-13.
Unlike just about every other murder mystery, the film gets into spirituality. There are several worship scenes and a Sunday school scene. The sheriff is shown praying several times. The entire investigative team has a group prayer. The climax of the film is a religious scene, a crisis of faith, if you will. In some ways this is a very dark film, filled with tragedy and missed opportunities, but it is also about the healing power of forgiveness and how faith helps those in need. In one scene the sheriff urges one of his flock to stop calling him bishop because he is on duty, investigating a murder case. The dual nature of his role in the community is highlighted when one woman seeks spiritual counseling of him in the sheriff's office. The Mormon church does not allow filming inside a functioning church, so the church scenes were filmed inside a former church that had been sold to a city government, according to the director's commentary on the DVD. The director's commentary track is loaded with information on how Dutcher managed to make a good film with less than a $1 million budget. This is a very creative bit of independent filmmaking. It rates a B.
The DVD is in a 1.78:1 format which preserves the film's original aspect ratio. The colors are bright and the image is good throughout nearly the whole film. Available sound tracks include Dolby (tm) 2.0 and 5.1 and a director's commentary tract. Dutcher talks about how he got the idea for the script in July and started filming in October. He got the idea while driving to California to work on the DVD for "God's Army." The one-sided dual-layered disk also has a theatrical trailer, subtitles and captions in English along with Spanish subtitles. There is also text information on the cast and crew.
**** [4 out of 5 stars] (Audio: B, Video: B, Features: A-)
Richard Dutcher, Matthew A. Brown, Wilford Brimley, Carrie Morgan, Jon Enos, Tavya Patch, Jeff Johnson, Wendy Gardiner. Directed by Richard Dutcher. Written by Richard Dutcher. Produced by Richard Dutcher. Released by Spartan Home Entertainment. 2001. 120 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Talent files, trailer, director's commentary.
Writer/director Richard Dutcher's followup to his remarkably successful "God's Army" turns that previous film's premise inside-out -- instead of focusing on Mormon missionaries working to evangelize their Christian faith to a sometimes hostile outside world, "Brigham City" details the effects that the sudden presence of the outside world's worst has upon the residents of a small, close-knit Mormon community. Dutcher and his "God's Army" star Matthew Brown reunite as the sheriff and deputy of Brigham City, officers whose duty rarely involves anything more than settling petty disputes. But the sudden appearance of a serial killer in their midst threatens to destroy everything that has previously made the small town such an idyllic place to live and raise families. And for Dutcher's character -- a widower who is also a religious leader in the town -- the dilemma puts one facet of his own life at odds with the other.
The beauty of "Brigham City" is that it's not really a murder mystery and only nominally a "Mormon" movie. It's a movie about the essence of what is increasingly an endangered species in America -- small town American life. The questions the film poses are not always easily answered, if they can be answered at all, but the thinking the movie provokes is vital and vibrant.
Dutcher's previous commentary on the DVD for "God's Army" was good, but this one is even better as it gives him a chance to elaborate on many of the themes the film addresses. Other extras include talent files and a trailer.
Collector Rating: WORTH FULL PRICE
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormons are building a culture that reflects their gospel convictions. They don't drink alcohol or coffee, they refrain from cigarette use, and they generally don't spend money on Sundays. Their males flaunt mostly clean-shaven faces, most of their women don't wear mini-skirts or sleeveless tank-tops, and a good portion of them give up 18 months to two years off preaching somewhere, often in foreign tongues.
In recent years, however, it may be observed that Mormonism has become increasingly commercialized. Their gospel has been pulled from its hallowed place on the Pedestal of Inviolability and placed in assorted shapes and sizes in bookstores, cd shops, and on Web sites.
Ever seen the t-shirts that take a Nike swoop and turn it into Moroni blowing his trumpet? Or heard Jericho Road wail out their squeaky cleanness against a backdrop of LDS themes? How about the little Book of Mormon action figures (of which Nephi seems to be the favorite)? Then there's "Charly", "Handcart", "God's Army", "Brigham City", "The Other Side of Heaven", and the soon-to-be-released remake of Johnny Lingo. View Photos of LDS Singles at ldsmingle.com, or name your Utah baby at geocities.com/Heartland/3450/, or adopt a curelom at mormonzone.com.
There's Mormon fiction (e.g. The Work and the Glory), Mormon music (i.e. Julie de Azevedo), Mormon movies (ex. Singles Ward), Mormon art (see Greg Olsen), and Mormon software (re: 'LDS Temples' screensaver).
There are entire stores devoted solely to Mormon missionary products.
Latter-day Saints enjoy CTR rings, Young Women's values bracelets, Child of God lockets, Nauvoo Sun charms, necklaces, key rings, and dog tags.
You name it, the Mormons make it.
Church history buff? Try the Kirtland Temple Interactive CD-ROM.
Want to spice up a handout for Sunday school? No problem -- sample one of the almost sixty LDS clipart programs at Deseret Book.
Looking for ways to find an eternal mate? There are almost 140 Mormon romance titles available online.
But in the middle of this LDS shopper's dream, one must face the question: when is it going too far?
How about when it is shocking to discover that a member of the Church, baptized at age 8, never (don't say it!) owned (please, no!) a CTR (stop, stop!) ring (gasp!)?
Or when someone has never heard of Gerald Lund and people say, Seriously? No way!
Or when people put off regular scripture study because they're reading other "church books" (i.e. The Porter Rockwell Chronicles)?
The moment Latter-day Saints begin to equate church membership or standing or doctrine with Mormon products is the moment the gospel has become lost behind a pile of CDs, cassettes, posters, books, jewelry, t-shirts, and Nephite action figures.
For the most part, Mormon commercialization is okay. Indeed, it is part of creating a culture.
But the most important part of that culture -- namely, the pure and simple gospel of Jesus Christ -- must never lose its front and center place.
* [1 out of 4 stars]
A serial killer is picking off women in Utah. It's up the Bishop/Sheriff to hunt this psycho do wn.
I'll try to keep this short and sweet, even though the movie isn't. Brigham City is a the tale of a serial killer stalking young women in a Mormon town. The sheriff who is also the bishop of the church is torn between his faith and his job to serve and protect the public.
So that's the story and it goes on and on with endless back story, awful acting, a completely retarded plot, and pacing slower than a snail (clocking in at over 2 hours). This movie is so ridiculously implausible and boring that its complete torture to watch. Get this, when they run out of suspects and have no leads the brilliant police force decide to go to where any serial killer would hang out, a bar. Of course, all bars are refuges for murderers. Then they take every beer bottle, dust them for prints and run them on their computer to see if anyone has a criminal background. And we all know that if you have any kind of criminal background that you're a serial killer. Come on, who wrote this sh--!
This movie takes itself so serious and thinks that its being a such deep and thought provoking murder mystery that it made me want to puke. How this garbage got made and how it found its way into video stores is a mystery. Think, a Lifetime movie only MUCH worse. For God's sake, this movie is just horrid period!
Brigham City is ONE OF THE WORST MOVIES I'VE EVER SEEN so unless you absolutely want to torture yourself skip this crap!