Numerical average of these graded scores: 70.0 (out of 100)
Average score is 2.8 stars out of 4, or a "B"
RottenTomatoes.com freshness score: 76%
21 reviews counted: 16 positive; 5 negative
[In the table below, the column labeled "RT.c" shows a plus or minus sign, indicating whether the RottenTomatoes.com website rated the review mainly positive (+) or negative (-). Reviews with nothing in the "RT.c" column (that is, they have no plus or minus by them, were not catalogued by the RottenTomatoes.com website, and are not included in the RottenTomatoes.com score.]
|Mr. Showbiz||Cody Clark||+||5 stars (out of 5)||100|
|About.com||Gary Leu||5 stars (out of 5)||100|
|Box Office Magazine||Wade Major||4 stars (out of 4)||100|
|Utah Statesman (Utah State University)||Debbie Lamb||A||100|
|Bryce's Movie Domain||Bryce||4 stars (out of 4)||100|
|Spectrum (St. George, Utah)||Bruce Bennett||+||A-||92|
|Medvedia||Michael Medved||3 1/2 stars (out of 4)||88|
|BigPlanet.com||3 1/2 stars (out of 4)||88|
|The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)||John Beifuss||3 1/2 stars (out of 4)||88|
|digitallyOBSESSED.com||Rich Rosell||Style: A-; Substance: B+||88|
|Las Vegas Weekly||Jill R. Cresap||B+||84|
|CitySearch||Jason Esplin||+||8 [out of 10]||80|
|Fanboy Planet||Derek McCaw||$8 (out of $10)||80|
|Tooele Transcript-Bulletin (Utah)||Audrey Rock-Richardson||+||4 stars (out of 5)||78|
|Boxoffice Magazine DVD review||Wade Major||4 stars (out of 5)||78|
|DVDTalk.com||Holly E. Ordway||4 stars (out of 5)||78|
|Christian Spotlight on the Movies||Ken James||4 stars (out of 5)||78|
|Salt Lake Tribune||Sean P. Means||3 stars (out of 4)||75|
|Honolulu Star-Bulletin||Gary C. W. Chun||3 stars (out of 4)||75|
|Dark Horizons||ThrustBucket||3 stars (out of 4)||75|
|Utah County Daily Herald/Land of Eric/eFilm Critic||Eric D. Snider||+||B||75|
|Laramie Movie Scope||Robert Roten||+||B||75|
|Fresno Bee||Donald Munro||+||B-||67|
|New York Times||Lawrence Van Gelder||+||3 1/2 stars (out of 5)||67|
|SEE Magazine||Jon Kolskog||3 1/2 stars (out of 5)||67|
|Steve Rhodes' Internet Reviews||Steve Rhodes||+||3 1/2 stars (out of 5)||67|
|Deseret News, Salt Lake City||Jeff Vice||+||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|Ogden Standard-Examiner||Steve Salles||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|Snack Bar||Adam J. Hakari||-||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|KSL Movie Show||Doug Wright, etc.||2.33 stars out of 4||58|
|TV Guide's Movie Guide||Ken Fox||+||3 stars (out of 5)||56|
|Calgary Sun||Louis B. Hobson||3 stars (out of 5)||56|
|Arizona Republic||Bill Muller||3 stars (out of 5)||56|
|Arkansas Democrat-Gazette||Philip Martin||+||3 stars (out of 5)||56|
|Seattle Post-Intelligencer||Sean Axmaker||-||C||50|
|The Daily Utah Chronicle (University of Utah)||Jeremy Asay||2 stars (out of 4)||50|
|The Signpost (Weber State University)||Ryan Gotteridge||C-||42|
|Sacramento News & Review||Jim Lane||-||2 stars (out of 5)||34|
|DVDTalk.com||Adam Tyner||-||2 stars (out of 5)||34|
|Christian Science Monitor||David Sterritt||2 stars (out of 5)||34|
|Haro Online||Mongoose||Not That Good||33|
|Dallas Morning News||Al Brumley||+|
|Chicago Tribune||John Petrakis||+|
|Hollywood Reporter||Michael Rechtshaffen||+|
|Cold Fusion Video Reviews||Nathan Shumate||+|
|Orlando Sentinel||Roger Moore||+|
|Seattle Times||Doug Knoop||-|
|New York Post||Lou Lumenick||-|
|Talking Pictures||Tony Toscano||-|
So far, not too many people have seen "Brigham City," the LDS-themed murder mystery by Utah filmmaker Richard Dutcher.
Twelve of those people are parents in Encino, Calif. -- the members of the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board -- and their decision to give "Brigham City" a PG-13 rating has riled up some of Dutcher's core audience even before the movie opens Friday on 60 screens in six Western states. (A gala premiere of the movie is set for 7 tonight at the Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons, 9335 S. State in Sandy, with Dutcher and co-star Matthew A. Brown signing autographs. Tickets are $20, with proceeds going to the Utah Foster Care Foundation.)
Many Mormons follow the LDS Church's proscription against R-rated movies, and some even shun PG-13 movies. So the idea that the upstanding Mormon who made "God's Army" -- the missionary tale that proved there was a market for LDS-themed films -- would court a PG-13 has shocked some fans.
Message boards on the movie's Web site (www.brighamcitythemovie.com) have been raging since the rating was applied last week, with scripture and church teachings cited on both sides of the argument.
"We have a movie that is being portrayed as being 'about Mormons, for Mormons,' " one posting read, "and yet by making it intense enough to get the PG-13 rating has put many LDS parents in the position of being a hypocrite to [let] their kids go see it, for having an established rule to see only wholesome and uplifting movies."
In another posting, a defender of the movie suggested that "an honest depiction of the Book of Mormon, the Bible, or even the Joseph Smith story would probably warrant at least a PG-13 rating. The murders and intensity in 1 Nephi alone would warrant a fairly strong rating."
Dutcher -- who wrote, directed, produced and stars in "Brigham City" -- welcomes the debate.
"It's a conversation that our people really need to have," Dutcher said in an interview. "If we're always holding ourselves to a G or a PG standard, it's going to limit the kind of films that we can make."
"Brigham City" is set in a fictional small Utah town where nobody locks their doors and where the local sheriff, Wes Clayton (played by Dutcher), is also bishop in the LDS ward. When Wes and his deputy Terry (Matthew A. Brown, Dutcher's young co-star in "God's Army") finds a dead body near an abandoned car with out-of-state plates, Wes tries to play down the murder as a random incident not reflecting on the town's peaceful character. But when the next dead body is that of a young local woman, Wes realizes the evil is closer to home.
Beyond the murder mystery (which Dutcher kept close to his vest by withholding the script's last 20 pages from most of his cast and crew), Dutcher's script also explores some deep issues. The movie covers the effects of urban sprawl on small-town comfort, the way this LDS community relies on faith in times of crisis, how the spiritual and the temporal can be intertwined, and how even the most closeknit small town can harbor its share of secrets.
The tone of "Brigham City" is darker than "God's Army," which will also surprise the LDS fans who made it an unexpected low-budget hit. "God's Army," an illuminating comedy-drama about missionary life in Los Angeles, was made on a shoestring budget of $300,000 and brought in $2.6 million at the box-office before selling 100,000 units on video. "Brigham City" was made for about $500,000 -- an increase that permitted such extras as hiring Wilford Brimley to play Wes' predecessor and mentor, Stu.
With its crime-scene images and descriptions of gruesome murder, "Brigham City" may be lucky to get a PG-13. The ratings board "let me know I was pretty close to an R," Dutcher said. "The one thing that saved it is that there was no language and no nudity. . . .
"The strange thing about the ratings -- and I don't know how they deal with this -- is that you're judged not only on the particular elements that are there but the intensity of it," Dutcher continued. "If you make a really intense scene, without particularly showing anything but just the fact that it's really uncomfortable, you can get slapped with a rating that you don't want. It's tricky, and it's somewhat unfair."
Dutcher recognizes that many LDS moviegoers make it a rule to avoid PG-13 films.
"People who see films as purely entertainment, and that's all, then they might as well have a rule like that," he said. "I would like to see my people recognize that film is not just entertainment, it has the potential to be a whole lot more."
Would Dutcher ever make an R-rated movie? Yes, though, he said, "I don't think any film I would make would be R-rated for any of the reasons most of our people avoid R-rated films" -- sexuality or nudity.
"If I really get in the mood to deal with really grown-up Mormons-in-the-contemporary-world issues, sure I could see it going that way," he said, adding with a laugh, "it would totally kill the box-office with my core audience."
Dutcher has urged LDS filmmakers to follow his lead, to tell stories that incorporate Mormons and LDS themes, and he said he has seen a few taking the challenge. He said he hopes moviegoers will worry less about ratings and more about a movie's message.
"I'd love to see us operate that way -- we just make the best films we can, and let the ratings board put what letters they will put on it," he said.
3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)
Brigham City earns a place in film history as the first example of Mormon noir. It's also probably the first murder mystery in which a suspect asks the investigating sheriff: "You're gonna come to my baptism, aren't ya?"
This intelligent, confident work is the second feature from writer-director Richard Dutcher of Utah, a Mormon filmmaker whose first effort, last year's God's Army, was an ambitious and revealing drama about a group of young missionaries in Los Angeles. If Brigham City represents a step toward the mainstream, it's far from a sellout. Dutcher's faith informs every frame of the film, but it never interferes with the logical resolution of the story or with the non-convert's enjoyment. In fact, because it never preaches, Brigham City should prove a thousand times more effective as a proselytizing tool than did the imitation Hollywood claptrap of the Trinity Broadcasting Network's The Omega Code and Megiddo. The intelligent way Brigham City examines issues of faith and personal moral crisis is more reminiscent of such movies as The Pledge and The Sweet Hereafter than of the typical "Christian" film.
In Brigham City, Dutcher -- who played a veteran missionary in God's Army -- stars as Sheriff Wes Clayton, a widower who begins his day by strapping on a leg brace as well as a gun and by reading the Bible (or perhaps the Book of Mormon) while eating his morning cereal.
Wes also is a Mormon bishop. "Are you here to talk to your sheriff or bishop?" he asks when someone enters his office, because he doesn't like to conduct "church business" on "the county clock." His young deputy (Matthew A. Brown, the star of God's Army, who has the good looks and charisma of a Hollywood star) calls the dutiful Wes "the youngest old man I?ve ever seen."
When the first murder in the 138-year-old history of Brigham, Utah, occurs, Wes insists that the crime "doesn't have anything to do with our town" because the victim apparently was just passing through. But when a second body is discovered, Wes is forced to admit that Brigham is no longer the paradise he pretended it was. "The rest of the world won't let us be," comments the curmudgeonly former sheriff, Stu (Wilford Brimley, the one name actor in the cast). "They're gonna drag us in whether we like it or not."
As Wes digs deeper into the murders, it's apparent that he's also trying to figure out his relationship to his changing world and to God. But such thoughts are rarely articulated; instead, Dutcher conveys them through the actions of the sheriff, who seems to be trying to maintain a foundation of faith-based inner peace despite feelings of guilt, frustration and inadequacy.
In many movies, religious faith is portrayed as something suspect -- a weakness or aberration. Sometimes, it is the identifying trait of a supporting character. Very rarely is faith presented as a key part of the makeup of a film's hero. In Brigham City, however, viewers are repeatedly reminded of Wes's Mormonism, but the references are as organic to the story as the allusions to law in an episode of Perry Mason. Scenes of Mormon church services are shot in a straightforward, documentary-like manner that makes the viewer feel like a observer, not a voyeur. Such authenticity is rare and welcome, and it makes Brigham City more intriguing than similar films told from an outsider's perspective, such as Witness, in which detective Harrison Ford infiltrates an Amish community.
I don't want to oversell Brigham City. Its lack of profanity, nudity and graphic violence is refreshing, but it also gives the film something of the feel of an extremely well done TV movie, considering that murder mysteries are staples of the tube. (After all, TV has given us old lady detectives, priest detectives, a blind detective and a detective in a wheelchair so why not a Mormon detective?)
But overall, Brigham City is convincing, gripping, well-acted and technically assured. It offers reassuring evidence that regional cinema is alive and well, in at least one part of the country. Brigham City also indicates that if Hollywood comes calling, Dutcher is ready -- if he's interested. Whether the filmmaker remains in Utah or moves on, it should be interesting to see how he reconciles his faith with what promises to be an increasingly successful career.
Brigham City is playing exclusively at the Hollywood 20 Cinema.
Few people could boast being so appreciated and so despised as Richard Dutcher. By tackling the serious issue of murder as well as showing a sacrament meeting in his new film, "Brigham City," Dutcher is likely to only add fuel to the fire of the debate he began with "God's Army."
"Brigham City" is a murder mystery that takes place in a fictional town in southern Utah. Dutcher's idea for the story came when he was driving by a gazebo in Mapelton, Utah County.
"I saw it and just started thinking about what kind of story could be told with the gazebo as the centerpiece and from the perspective of a small town," he said. "Any story can be told successfully from a Mormon perspective."
The heart of the movie is learning to forgive oneself and each other, Dutcher said. Other major themes include the loss of innocence and dealing with worldly issues, such as murder and deception.
"There is something sad about becoming an adult and losing your childish innocence," he said. "The same is true when small towns loose their innocence and cities like Brigham are becoming few in number, which is sad."
"Brigham City" is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and for some violence surrounding plot events.
Dutcher said he expected a PG-13 rating and hopes that it will not cause too much controversy or deter people from seeing the film.
"PG-13 means that it is okay for a 13 year old," he said. "Murder isn't a cartoonish subject, and I've tried to portray it like it is -- a crime that directly affects people, families and communities."
"I just told my story," he said. "I didn't try to make a PG-13 movie or a PG movie."
Dutcher said he is not out to convert the world, but missionary work is something he thinks about.
"My intention is to open myself up through my work and let the rest of humanity see the world through my Mormon eyes," he said. "If they like the way the world looks through those eyes, great. Welcome aboard."
"If they don't, that's fine too because at least we've communicated and they understand me better and hopefully Mormonism as well."
Dutcher said he is just a storyteller who wants to tell his story. People who criticize his decisions to portray what he does about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have just not thought it through, he said.
A sacrament meeting in one scene is a wonderful opportunity for people who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ to see what happens at church, Dutcher said.
"So people have never been to a sacrament meeting before and they really enjoyed seeing what it was like," he said. "Some members only think it runs long because it is something very familiar to them since we go to sacrament meeting every week."
Dutcher said as a missionary he was always trying to get investigators to sacrament meeting.
"Baptism and the sacrament are public ordinances and there is no reason to hide our light under a bushel," he said. "We shouldn't be afraid to share who we are."
Aaron Manning, 24, a senior from Mesa, Ariz., majoring in chemical engineering, disagrees with Dutcher. Manning said he is against showing the ordinances of baptism, healing and the sacrament in movies.
"There is a fine line and Dutcher definitely crossed it in 'God's Army' by showing the whole ordinance," he said. "Putting the ordinance on screen in its entirety is just inappropriate."
There was not enough spiritual preparation of the audience to watch something so sacred, Manning said.
Doug Stewart, 24, a senior from O'Fallon, Ill., majoring in industrial design, played Benny in "God's Army." He said the scene in which his character was healed was done with extreme taste.
"Everyone who didn't have to be there was asked to leave and the people who weren't members of the church acted reverent and respectfully," he said. "As long as the ordinances are treated with respect, I don't see any problem with showing them on screen."
Stewart's parents are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ, and he said he likes the idea of them seeing a baptism or a sacrament meeting in a movie.
"My parents came to my baptism and to sacrament meeting and I want them to be as involved in those situations as possible," he said. "My mom cried when she saw 'God's Army' and it was great to share that experience with her and have her understand what I did for two years."
Tickets for the "Brigham City" premiere are $20 and all the proceeds will go to the Utah Foster Care Foundation.
Ryan Shupe & the Rubberband, who make cameo appearances in the film, will give a free concert at 6 p.m. Cast members and other celebrities, such as Karl Malone, will arrive in a limo ticket holders will be able to get autographs before the premiere begins at 7 p.m.
"Brigham City" officially opens in theaters Friday and stars Richard Dutcher, Matthew Brown and Wilford Brimley.
Matthew Brown, who played Elder Allen in "God's Army," is known as Deputy Terry Woodruff in "Brigham City." Brown will be at the BYU Bookstore Friday, April 6, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to sign autographs.
Brigham City (Religious/crime drama, color, PG-13, 1:59)
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - From the opening, sun-streaked image of wearied, bleary-eyed Sheriff Wes Clayton (Richard Dutcher) strapping on his ankle holster and suiting up with all the rote, laconic dispassion of Morgan Freeman in "Seven," "Brigham City" aims for a considerably brassier ring than writer-producer-director-star Dutcher's previous outing -- the Latter Day Saints-missionaries-in-Hollywood fable "God's Army."
And after two hours of this skillful, unusually despairing murder-mystery, it's obvious that Dutcher has delivered on that ambition, crafting not only a more artful, philosophically daring work than his last film, but also what may represent the happiest marriage yet of the disparate propagandistic and narrative influences inherent in the subgenre of "religious" cinema.
Returns should be respectable for the low-budget, specialized film, though extremely serious, often unsettling subject matter may turn away seekers of more frivolous, "Omega Code"-esque thrills.
One of the key factors that sets "Brigham City" (and "God's Army") apart from other recent religious-themed movies is that Dutcher, while a practicing Mormon, is not directly affiliated with any evangelical organization, nor does his financing derive from such sources. Rather, he is a typical independent filmmaker, driven by the atypical impetus to make films for a predominantly Mormon audience.
What makes "Brigham City" compelling to a non-Mormon audience is the finely detailed manner in which Dutcher elucidates the goings-on of small town Mormon life. Despite a more commercial premise than "God's Army," "Brigham City" is actually the more revealing about the subtleties of the insular Mormon culture.
The gloss in "Brigham City" is on a complex murder investigation. But Dutcher's interest lies more in rupturing the innocent veneer of a tight-knit community, in the way of Atom Egoyan and "The Sweet Hereafter" before him.
When Wes and his eager-beaver partner Terry (Matthew A. Brown, of "God's Army") uncover the mutilated corpse of an out-of-town motorist, they are shocked that such a murder could happen in their open-windows, unlocked-doors town. But it also goes to the core of Wes' own personal faith in a benevolent Almighty (in addition to being sheriff, he's the town bishop).
When the killings continue, the sense is of a big-city immorality-and-corruption sore, peeling and festering its way into every corner of once peaceful Brigham.
Occasionally, Dutcher overindulges on familiar colloquial characters -- kiss-my-grits secretary Peg (Carrie Morgan) and retired-but-still-hanging-around sheriff Stu (Wilford Brimley) -- as well as on the obtuse depiction of city-slicker FBI agents and on too many red-herring diversions. But generally, he holds to his two major impulses -- to weave a densely plotted, engrossing whodunit and to examine the rift between the loss of innocence and the gaining of wisdom.
He deepens film's mystery element with at least one genuinely surprising twist. And he effortlessly conveys the depth of his characters' faith. All of this is accomplished without giving in to the sensationalistic overtures of the lurid subject matter or making the viewer feel preached to.
In fact, once you get over the periodic clunkiness of dialogue like, "His new companion's kind of weird, but they got a couple of baptisms," "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.
Dutcher is strong in the lead and populates the edges of pic with some finely acted bits (particularly from Morgan and Brimley). He builds the dilemma of Wes' affronted faith into a supremely powerful climax that surely qualifies as one of the tensest communion services ever put on film.
And if, in the end, there is a hint of redemption, of the evil that infected the town of Brigham being put to rest, it is most tentative and cautionary, of the kind that would seem tough and uncompromising in any film, religious or otherwise.
Wes.................................. Richard Dutcher
Terry................................ Matthew A. Brown
Stu.................................. Wilford Brimley
Peg.................................. Carrie Morgan
Ed................................... Jon Enos
Meredith............................. Tayva Patch
An Excel Entertainment Group release of a Zion Films presentation. Produced, directed, written by Richard Dutcher. Camera (FotoKem color), Ken Glassing; editor, Michael Chaskes; music, Sam Cardon; production designer, Kee L. Miller; costume designer, Camile J. Morris; sound (Dolby), Matt Davis; line producer, David Greenlaw Sapp; assistant directors, Sapp, Brian A. Brough; casting, Jennifer Buster. Reviewed at Raleigh Studios, L.A., March 30, 2001.
LOS ANGELES, April 6 (RNS)--The difficult theme in Mormon filmmaker Richard Dutcher's new film "Brigham City"--of forgiving someone for horrible but unintentional errors in judgment--was too much for some of his largely Mormon film crew.
"I had a few defections from the crew, people who felt that I was mis-portraying the Mormon people or that I was making us look bad," said Dutcher, 36, the writer, director, producer, and star of "Brigham City," which opens today, and last year's Mormon missionary drama, "God's Army." "Things aren't so simple. I think everybody sees the world a little too clear-cut."
After he created a $2.6 million U.S. box-office draw with "God's Army," Dutcher's PG-13 murder mystery rolls out this month to 87 theaters in Utah and heavily Mormon areas of Arizona, Idaho, and Nevada, plus California, Hawaii, Illinois, Colorado, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
The evangelical optimism of "God's Army" earned it unofficial admiration from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though Dutcher neither shows his independent films to Mormons leaders before they're released nor seeks church funding or approval.
The films are decidedly different Mormon stories. The upbeat "God's Army," which was set in Los Angeles, was multiethnic and enjoyed repeat business from a devoted, Internet-savvy Mormon fan base which appreciated its positive but still precise portrayal of missionary life. "Brigham City" is set in overwhelmingly Caucasian small-town Utah, with young all-American Mormon moms tending to daughters as pretty as the plot is ugly--a serial killer walking their streets.
During a long lunch interview, Dutcher said his new film seeks "to actively portray Mormon people, bring them down to earth. It's not the Madison Avenue view of who we are, which is what we get far too often. This was just me trying to tell a story about my own people...."
In "Brigham City," Dutcher plays Wes Clayton, the soft-spoken sheriff of fictional Brigham in Utah's fictional Kirtland County, where he also is a local Mormon bishop. A widower who survived an accident that killed his wife and son, Clayton wants to keep evil from his Mormon oasis of blond families, parades, and well-scrubbed sons. But an out-of-state woman's body discovered outside town prompts a FBI probe. Then Brigham's beauty pageant queen is killed, and a female convenience store clerk is kidnapped.
Clayton is a compassionate man but, in the film's whodunit resolution, turns out to be an incompetent cop. He deputizes the town's Mormon men to conduct house-to-house searches, which Dutcher said he knew was, "extremely unconstitutional." Such missteps mean that once the killer is found, Clayton's life as a sheriff and church bishop are ruined, which the director wanted.
"He doesn't destroy himself because he's a bad person, it's not like his vices bring him down," Dutcher said. "He's too trusting, he's too good-hearted, he thinks the world is better than it is, and because of that he brings about his own downfall and hurts a lot of people."
The film has two climaxes; when the killer is found and when Clayton starts to accept God's forgiveness by taking Mormon communion bread at his chapel's Sunday service. "The climax of the thriller happens six, seven minutes earlier than [a typical] Hollywood climax," Dutcher said. "But for me the real climax of the film, the spiritual or the emotional climax, happens right there at the very end of the film."
Clayton's receiving communion was, he said, "the absolute center of the film. I, as his [film] creator, I still love the guy, with his faults and the wrong things that he does.... For me it was an acknowledgement [that] yes, he did incredibly stupid things that some people are never going to forgive him for. But his Creator forgives him, understanding why this happened and how this happened."
While "God's Army" was shot in 18 days on a $300,000 budget, the $600,000 "Brigham City" budget allowed for a five-week Utah shoot, with veteran actor Wilford Brimley hired for a supporting role. "God's Army" funding came mostly from non-Mormons, including an elderly Christian Scientist, while the "Brigham City" budget was almost exclusively Mormon money, a key film investor being Utah Jazz basketball team owner Larry H. Miller.
The film was shot in and around Mapleton, Utah, a small town 55 miles south of Salt Lake City where Dutcher lives with his wife and four children and also runs his Zion Films production company.
One Brigham City scene required the art direction team to rent box covers of some 50 pornographic movies from a Salt Lake City adult video store.
"They were driving around with all these video boxes in the back of their car," Dutcher chuckled, adding the scene was shot quickly, but getting the box covers embarrassed the art director, a young Mormon father. "He was a little red-faced about it."
Our Rating: ** 1/2 [2 1/2 stars out of 4]
The one-man band who brought us "God's Army" hopes his predominantly LDS audience will enjoy his next offering -- and why shouldn't they?
Richard Dutcher's initial breakthrough into this fairly untouched genre was a rousing success. He wrote, starred and directed his way into independent film's top box office list of 2000 with his honest portrayal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionary experience.
But, if you thought that was a gamble, check out what he has in store this time -- a murder mystery set in a predominantly LDS community.
"Brigham City," ironically, is not based on the Northern Utah town famous for its delicious peaches. It is a fictitious community and you'll soon understand why.
A series of unsolved murders has turned this normally quiet country burg into a nervous hive of fear and finger-pointing.
Sheriff Wes Clayton (Dutcher) is the unassuming lawman elected to protect Brigham. Think of him as a cross between "Gunsmoke's" Festus, Clint Eastwood and Andy of Mayberry. Clayton also serves as a local LDS bishop.
He's shocked to discover a blood-drenched convertible parked in a remote canyon meadow. The body of a young woman is found in a nearby shed. He can't remember the last time anyone died in Brigham from anything other than natural causes.
The FBI, county coroner, even the former sheriff (played by consistently crusty but lovable Wilford Brimley) are brought in to try to solve the case. Deputy Terry ("God's Army" co-star Matthew Brown), who is tired of playing crossing guard during local celebrations, is anxious to sink his teeth into what appears to be Brigham's first real crime.
Calmly, Sheriff Wes begins his search for suspects at the local tavern by fingerprinting beer bottles and matching them with the FBI files, as if the killer must obviously be a suds-soaked sinner. Dutcher parades a number of heavy-handed red herrings (potential suspects) throughout the film, some of them subtle, others almost with neon signs over their heads reading "POSSIBLE KILLER HERE."
Frankly, I was surprised that Dutcher gave this film so much "edge." It is rated PG-13, mainly for implied violence, which could bring frowns from his bread-and-butter audience.
It makes sense if he's reaching outside the flock for box office, but that could threaten those in the core crowd who think they're coming to see "God's Army 2." It's a gutsy move that could pay off big or fall flat on its face, but I admire the fact that he's willing to take the risk.
The bottom line is this -- Dutcher is improving his filmmaking skills. "Brigham City" has a much more polished look than "God's Army." However, the script still feels stiff and the LDS references a little forced.
He does show signs of brilliance, as in the big finale scene that combines an LDS sacrament meeting with a powerfully dramatic realization -- it was an amazing emotional moment no matter what cloth you're cut from -- that shows me Richard Dutcher is determined to get it right.
Once again, the Mormons have created a movie around their religion--remember last year's God's Army? But director Richard Dutcher is careful not cram teachings down our throats. Here, Sheriff/Bishop Wes Clayton (Dutcher) is a trusting, religious man who has been struck by tragedy more than once in his life. Being a widower, his life is routine. Things change quickly. Wes discovers a dead body in an old abandoned house, and while he's trying to keep it hush-hush, another body is found, violated and disfigured in the park. Now everyone knows. During the investigation, another girl is kidnapped, and the previous sheriff is killed. Who could be doing this? Suspense, drama, an occasional church scene. Simply heart-wrenching: This movie left me in tears.
A Mormon crime thriller is one of those concepts that, at first glance, seems terribly, terribly wrong -- like putting ketchup on green salad or casting Rob Schneider in "King Lear."
Juxtaposing horrifying serial murders with serene religious righteousness suggests an ecclesiastical train wreck in the making. A film such as this has the potential to alienate almost everybody: the religious, the nonreligious, even the casual moviegoer who wanders in just looking for a good mystery.
But Richard Dutcher's "Brigham City" confounds stereotypes. It might not surge across the screen with the self-assured, bloody abandon of more secular fare. But in an oblique, almost reverential way, this Mormon-targeted film manages to raise provocative questions about violence, religious commitment and the dangers of insulating oneself from the outside world.
Plus -- and perhaps this is the biggest surprise -- "Brigham City" isn't a bad little thriller in its own right. The murder mystery deftly woven into its religious underpinnings kept me on my toes with far more verve than many a leaden Hollywood blockbuster.
>From the moment that Sheriff Wes Clayton (Dutcher, who directed the film as well as the recent "God's Army") achingly pulls his body from bed in the morning, "Brigham City" unfolds with a measured determination. Still hurting both physically and spiritually from the loss of his wife and daughter in an auto accident, Wes pours his passions into his job and his church position as a Mormon bishop.
Brigham City, Utah, is so removed from the outside world that its mostly Mormon residents have developed an interesting form of elitism. They pride themselves on the safety and security of their community -- so much so that their pride becomes a rigid form of vanity that prevents them from bonding with outsiders, much less interacting with them.
It is against this peaceful backdrop that a murder takes place. Wes and his young, earnest deputy, Terry (Matthew Brown of "God's Army," in a nuanced performance), discover the body. She doesn't live in town.
Wes' first inclination is to protect the residents by not even mentioning the murder. But when the killer strikes again -- and this time one of their own is taken -- the small town is turned upside down. Suddenly the community's very insularity becomes a curse.
Dutcher isn't a high-octane actor, and for the first half hour of "Brigham City," the placid pace and tone threatens to spin into gentle oblivion. But slowly, surely, the grit within Wes begins to surface. He grapples with assumptions about his life -- and his town -- that he's never really considered before. He might be an unlikely crusading detective, but the character comes across as emotionally real.
What's real, too, is the way that religion is very much a part of "Brigham City." This isn't a movie that's afraid to pray. In several lingering scenes, the ritual of a routine worship service is presented in deft, reverential tones.
But even though the religious angle is proud and precise, the film rarely seems heavy-handed. Meredith (Tayva Patch) is the non-Mormon FBI agent assigned to the case. As she and Wes get to know each other, she is exposed for the first time to the Mormon faith. She's respectful but also asks tough questions.
To the film's credit, the answers aren't all easy.
All this said, I had conflicting feelings regarding the depiction of violence in "Brigham City."
The blood and terror are necessary to the film's fear-the-outside-world plot.
But by indulging so graphically in the horrors of that outside world, does the film itself stoop to the level that it's trying to leave behind?
Granted, the violence isn't as intense as typical Hollywood fare.
But one key scene is emotionally traumatic: We see a gun against a head, we hear a shot, we see the horrified reaction of a witness, we see blood spattered on the wall.
Is any of this really any less prurient than the brains-on-the-backseat mindset of a "Pulp Fiction"?
Does sanitizing violence make it less offensive? Or just more palatable?
It's questions like these that keep "Brigham City" fresh and vibrant. And not just for Mormons.
Brigham City, to many residents, is paradise. But within the walls of paradise a serpent hides.
"Nothing attracts a serpent like paradise," according to a press release for the movie "Brigham City."
Brigham City is a small town where nothing exciting ever happens; people go through the same routine day after day -- until one day a woman from out of town is found murdered in an abandoned house.
The Sheriff, Wes Clayton, (Richard Dutcher, "God's Army") is also a bishop. He tries to protect the town by not telling anyone of the murder, while his young deputy, Terry, (Matthew A. Brown, "God's Army") thinks this is part of the real world outside Brigham City and wants to start an investigation. The FBI is brought in to investigate the murder. The two investigators promise to keep a low profile by blending in, but manage to stick out like snow in the desert.
With the economy booming, many people are moving in from out of town. The town is transforming from a once quiet town where everyone knew everyone else to a town of prosperity.
Another woman is found murdered the sheriff realizes he has a serial killer within his town. Residents begin to lock their doors and suspect each other. The sheriff tries to hold the town together both lawfully and spiritually while he searches for the murderer before anything else happens.
"'Brigham City' is fictional," said Allison Plaizier, a representative from Zion Films. "They named it Brigham City so that people would know the movie is about Mormons."
Richard Dutcher ("God's Army") produced this $1.2 million dollar film, Plaizier said. It opens April 6 on 60 screens across North America, including 13 in Utah. It is rated PG-13 for violence.
"Brigham City" is very intense and keeps the viewer wondering who the murderer is. It deserves an A for intrigue and suspense.