*** [3 stars]
Church-related and financed feature films always address the specific needs -- and, more often than not, proselytize -- for and to the converted flock. The recent release of kingdom come/approaching apocalypse adventure films, while guaranteed solid box office numbers, usually don't crossover into larger, secular audiences.
The same kind of specialized cinema can be generally said for independent films, movies with a distinctly outsider-driven view of the world. This is where Richard Dutcher comes from, although his two films, "God's Army" and now "Brigham City," were both funded by Zion Films of Provo, Utah -- in other words, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormons, of which Dutcher himself is an active and devout church member.
Considering niche dynamics, Dutcher is an especially skilled talent. While his first film about a young missionary from Kansas (Matthew Brown) adjusting to life in sinful Los Angeles was tailor-made for a Mormon audience, it was reviewed in the L.A. Times as a "sensitive and thoughtful probe into questions of faith and the difficulties faced by those who are called to teach others."
Dutcher further explores this spiritual issue in "Brigham City," except it's in the guise of a more potentially troubling genre, namely the murder mystery. With enough word-of-mouth publicity, this film could break out of its niche market -- but, somehow, I don't see him dragging this film around to any of the splashy film festivals around the world. It just wouldn't seem prudent.
It's to Dutcher's credit that with all the hats he wears in his films, producer/director/writer/lead actor, he doesn't come off as making mere vanity projects. His role as both the sheriff and bishop of an idyllic Mormon Utah town is one he effectively underplays, letting the crises of both a horrific series of murders and the mistrust it breeds amongst the town's congregation contribute all the needed drama.
He's ably assisted by a cast that includes Brown as a fresh-faced deputy sheriff, and veteran character actor Wilford Brimley, Carrie Morgan and Tayva Patch in important supporting roles.
While Dutcher's characterizations are strictly within the genre's archetypes -- the gruff, retired guy still hanging around the office; the shrewd, wisecracking secretary; the initially unsympathetic law enforcement investigator coming in from the outside -- and he occasionally falls back on formulaic plot twists, Dutcher effectively captures the tone of the quiet, insular Mormon life that always tries to keep the troubling outside world at bay.
And the film's climax, which brings to a head the spiritual despair both Dutcher's conflicted character and his congregation face after the killings, is an unexpectedly powerful one.
"Brigham City" attempts to, and succeeds, in being a courageous movie for its Mormon audience, and it's a strong enough film to engage the rest of us.
[Excerpt from article that reviws 3 other CDs as well.]
"WELCOME TO BRIGHAM" is an intriguing look into the creative process by a group of Excel Entertainment musicians invited to express their thoughts and feelings in music after watching the movie "Brigham City."
The results are an eclectic mix bound with a commonality that makes for interesting listening. While they are fully in keeping with the tone and tenor of the movie, the songs also stand alone. From Maren Ord's wondering "what if the world were a little more perfect?" to Peter Breinholt's tribute to the strength of small towns and Cherie Call's lament for lost love, the themes and emotions are universal.
There's both poignancy and passion in Greg Simpson's discussion of "the lie that held back the tears in the eyes of a thousand prodigal sons," Kalai's distinctive style and lyricism come through in "Patience Lies" and a group called Sunfall Festival delivers an ethereal version of the hymn "Nearer My God To Thee" (although the ending seems a bit abrupt).
Add Julie De Azevedo's wistful "I Can't Count The Stars," a spirited affirmation called "It's Alright" from Ryan Shupe & The Rubberband and "Unchanged," a moving ballad bearing Shane Jackman's inimitable touch, and you have a collection that speaks deeply to the psyche and keeps calling you back for more.
There's also an instrumental theme song by Sam Cardon taken from the movie. Some of the songs also appear on individual albums by these artists, but in this context they enhance and complement each other in exciting ways.
A pre-September 11 movie that felt like a post-September 11 movie: Richard Dutcher's underrated Brigham City, about a serial killer at large in a Mormon community. At first, this explicitly religious, thoroughly Middle American film looks like PaxNet fodder, tailor-made for family-values tub-thumpers. But it goes on to address the perils of isolationism, the danger of confusing ignorance with innocence, and the results of turning a blind eye to evil, and it does so with dogged conviction and a heavy heart -- as if The Andy Griffith Show had morphed into L'Humanité.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of critics lamenting what a terrible year for movies 2001 has been. Isn't that what they said last year? And the year before? I don't necessarily disagree, but instead of adding my own grievances to the pile, I have hand-selected ten Must-See Movies of 2001, especially for you, loyal Meridian readers.
Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone
Rated PG-13 (for scary moments and mild language)
Story: Orphaned Harry Potter finds out his deceased parents were powerful wizards and enrolls in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to fulfill his exciting destiny.
Why See it?
- Because if you haven't read the fantastic book by J.K. Rowling, you really should.
- Because Hollywood didn't ruin the book.
- Because three upstart kids stole the movie from a cast of acting legends.
- Because director Chris Columbus fulfilled incredibly high expectations.
- Because we have six more Harry Potter films to look forward to!
Story: Carmen and Juni Cortez learn that their parents are really secret agents and have to rescue them from an entertainer bent on world domination.
Why See it?
- Because a rebel filmmaker made a fun family movie without all the bad stuff.
- Because families not only matter, but are worth fighting for. Yes, even little brothers.
- Spy gadgets and gizmos!
- Because you might spot George Clooney.
- Because the villain is a children's TV show producer gone bad (which might explain those frightening Teletubbies on PBS).
Story: When a little girl crosses the threshold into Monstropolis, the top-scaring monster and his one-eyed sidekick must get her back home before the boss finds out. Why See it?
Why See it?
- Because Pixar is 4 for 4 (after Toy Story, A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2).
- Because 3-D computer animation is light years ahead of traditional animation.
- Because John Goodman and Billy Crystal make hilarious buddies.
- Because you actually feel the depth of love a hairy monster has for one special girl.
- Didn't you see the advertisements? It's an "instant classic!"
Story: Shrek, an ugly green ogre, goes on a quest to rescue beautiful princess Fiona, but falls in love with her before they can return to vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad.
Why See it?
- Because adults enjoy it just as much as kids, if not more.
- Because it is an amazing work of art.
- Because it is favored to win the first ever Oscar for Best Animated Film.
- Because DreamWorks Animation is finally giving Walt Disney Pictures a run for their money.
- Because Eddie Murphy is a lovable jackass, gingerbread men speak, and ogres have hearts of gold.
Story: When a dead woman is found in a small Utah town, the stunned sheriff, who is also the Mormon bishop, sets out to find the murderer.
Why See it?
- Because Richard Dutcher bravely explores a touchy subject: murder in a Mormon town.
- Because this is a powerful and provocative film.
- Because Dutcher sets his climactic emotional scene during a Sacrament Meeting - and succeeds.
- Because this is a powerful and provocative film by an LDS artist.
- The star of God's Army, Matthew Brown, is in it (just ask your daughters).
Story: A fifteen-year-old discovers that she is the princess of a small European country.
Why See it?
- Because it was panned by critics and still became a $100 million blockbuster.
- Because it proves that family audiences still have power in Hollywood.
- Because it proves that G-rated, live action movies are valid (as long as they're good).
- Because Julie Andrews is in it.
- Because you would rather support this than American Pie 2.
Story: In 1914, twenty-eight explorers set out for Antarctica, but when they lose their ship to the ice and abandon ship, survival goes from unlikely to impossible.
Why See it?
- Because it is one of the most impressive survival stories you will ever see.
- Because this documentary uses actual footage shot by Shackleton's men.
- Because Sir Ernest Shackleton is a model of courage in the face of utter failure.
- Because documentaries can be so much more than the snoozefests you saw in high school. You will be engrossed by this one. Trust me.
- Because you will appreciate your warm, comfortable bed more than usual.
Story: After his father's death, a son recalls how his provincial mother and educated father fell in love in rural China.
Why See it?
- Because Chinese filmmaker Yimou Zhang does not make bad films.
- Because this is Zhang's second G-rated film that deals with sophisticated themes.
- Because, in filmmaking, sometimes less is more.
- Because love, loyalty, sacrifice and home are very good things to value.
- Because I needed a foreign film to round out this list.
Story: With eight companions sworn to protect him, innocent hobbit Frodo embarks on an epic quest to destroy an evil ring that has come into his hands.
Why See it?
- Because J.R.R. Tolkien's 100 million readers aren't wrong.
- Because a little-known, independent filmmaker from New Zealand put an entire studio on the line and, in the process, restored the magic to Hollywood epics.
- Because heroes aren't always the biggest and strongest, but the pure in heart.
- Because good will triumph over evil in the end.
- Because director Peter Jackson didn't ruin the book and still blew diehard fans away.
Story: In the 1950's, John Groberg leaves his sweetheart to serve a mission to the people of Tonga.
Why See it?
- Because it is the most mainstream Hollywood film about Mormons since Brigham Young: Frontiersman (1940). And it is better.
- Because it will make you laugh and cry (a lot).
- Because you will fall in love with Tonga and its people.
- Because story always comes first - and this is a dramatic, inspirational and true story.
- Because the LDS filmmakers will surprise you with their taste and their talent.
- Because it needs your support. Check http://www.othersideofheaven.com/ for release dates.
Maybe 2001 wasn't such a bad year after all. One could even argue that it was a banner year for LDS filmmakers. If you see only one film on this list, see The Other Side of Heaven. It may not be the most expensive or even the most flawless, but it is the most personal. It is a beautiful reflection of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint and a missionary. It is also an exciting sign of things to come. Line by line, rung by rung, our Latter-day Saint filmmakers are being heard and climbing ever higher. Onwards and upwards. I'll see you at the movies in 2002.
Two "local boy makes good" stories -- one conventional, the other quite strange -- define Utah's year in movies.
The conventional story begins with Richard Dutcher, the Utah County filmmaker who released "Brigham City" in April. The movie, in which Dutcher played a sheriff (and Mormon bishop) tracking a serial killer in his LDS-dominated town, was a strong portrayal of the intersection of church life and civic life -- and a warning that being too trusting in one's faith is not always a good thing.
The movie's dark themes and PG-13 rating surprised fans of Dutcher's debut, the family friendly Mormon missionary drama "God's Army." Still, "Brigham City" was a qualified success at the box office, and demonstrated Dutcher's growth as a filmmaker.
Dutcher did not rest after the movie's release, announcing an ambitious production, "The Prophet," based on the life of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith. Meanwhile, other producers announced movies about such topics as the Mormon pioneers' trek to Utah and the funny things that happen in a singles' ward. In mid-December, "The Other Side of Heaven," a $7 million film chronicling a young missionary's experiences in Tonga (based on a memoir by John H. Groberg, a member of the church's leadership in the First Quorum of the Seventy), opened in Utah theaters and recorded strong box-office figures.
The bizarro-world version of Dutcher's story is the tale of how Trent Harris, Salt Lake City's favorite cult filmmaker, became an avant-garde hero in 2001 with his semi-documentary artifact "Beaver Trilogy."
The movie tells the story of a guy so obsessed with fame that he cajoles a TV cameraman to tape his one-man show, in which he dresses in drag and lip-syncs Olivia Newton-John songs. The fascinating part is watching Harris tell the story three times: first as a documentary of the real guy, known as "Groovin' Gary," in 1979; then in a 1981 video of Sean Penn improvising the character; then in Harris' 1984 short film "The Orkly Kid," with Crispin Glover in the lead.
Harris put the three shorts together to show friends, then strange things started happening. The trilogy was screened at a San Francisco art gallery. Then it played New York's Lincoln Center. This year, "Beaver Trilogy" screened at the Sundance Film Festival, then went on to festivals from Cleveland to Rotterdam. A distributor has talked to Harris about releasing it nationwide (though music-rights issues are holding things up).
Critics around the world raved about it. Bruce Hainley, a contributing editor for Artforum magazine, said it was the best art event of the year. The New York Times' critic A.O. Scott called it "a rivetingly strange, multilayered inquiry into celebrity, obsession and serendipity." The Los Angeles Film Critics Association named it the year's best "independent/experimental" film.
What do critics see in "Beaver Trilogy?" Hainley said it "gives new resonance to the expression 'laugh until you cry.' Tracing the blurring concepts of 'being,' 'impersonation,' and 'acting' (in life or more formally on stage), the movie explores fandom as the fundament of fame. Harris provides a Warholian stare at the stupefying trauma of the posited masculine real as well as some proof that the technology of video (TV) can short-circuit seeing or witnessing, deranging their links to responsibility or consciousness."
Pretty good for a Utah kid.
Other Utah film oddities in 2001:
Best News for Moviegoers Escaping the January Inversion: Park City and the Sundance Institute struck a four-year deal to keep the Sundance Film Festival in Park City through 2005. Park City offered some incentives, including $250,000 in cash and in-kind services, and an effort to get restaurants to stay open later. The 11-day event every January is credited with bringing $36 million a year to Utah's economy.
Best Reason to Keep Your Entertainment Listings Handy: Jazz owner Larry H. Miller opened a 12-screen multiplex in downtown Salt Lake City's Gateway shopping area in November -- and by December, enough restaurants had opened there to make dinner-and-a-movie logistically feasible (if you can navigate Gateway's rat-maze of a parking garage). Meanwhile, the Loews Cineplex chain filed Chapter 11 and all but pulled out of Utah, closing the Broadway Centre, Trolley Corners and Taylorsville's Midvalley 12-plex. Regional chains filled the void: Westates Theaters took over the Trolley Corners (and, earlier in the year, the Holladay Cinemas 6 and Bountiful's Trolley North Theatres), while Starship Consolidated Cinemas now runs the Broadway. Park City is still waiting for its Holiday Village Cinemas, closed for remodeling since July, to open again.
Strangest Utah-related Dialogue: "You ever been to Provo?" -- Turk Malloy (Scott Caan) to Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) in "Ocean's Eleven."
[Reviewer's score: zero "Moronis" (out of 4), for "Morality and Enlightenment"; 1 star (out of 4) for entertainment] (age 14+)
If I had a half star, I would use it. This movie is a complete waste of time. The best way I can describe it is a really bad murder mystery from the bottom of the pile in a long list of television series during the 70's. Do not waste a cent on this one. If you are not LDS you will think LDS members are freaks, and if you are then most likely you will feel violated in some way. Someone please tell Richard Dutcher to stick to producing, directing or what ever it is he does best. Oh yes, and please Richard stay away from acting. I do not like to be this harsh, but I hope Mr. Dutcher does not let his claim to fame from his wonder film titled GOD'S ARMY ruin his potential.
OK, it's now official: I need to get a life; one that includes more than just movies.
Seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, I'm almost completely consumed with watching, writing about and reading about film. (For example, one of the first things I do every day is scour the Internet for stories and rumors about new films.)
Weirder still is my obsession with collecting movie "scrambles," concatenations of movie titles -- movies with similar titles or shared or similar words in their titles jumbled together for an imagined result.
For example, try to envision "Orange County of Monte Cristo," a combination of the slacker comedy "Orange County" and "Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo." Of course, given how many anachronistic touches and characters there are in the latter film, a period swashbuckler, the end result might not be that hard to imagine.
Here are some more:
*** [3 out of 5 stars]
Mormon filmmaker Richard Dutcher had two goals in crafting the taut drama Brigham City.
He wanted to create a compelling story of a serial killer that is an edge-of-the-seat whodunit.
He also wanted to place his Mormon faith front and centre.
He has succeed on both counts without letting his proselytizing detract significantly from his story telling.
Dutcher plays Wes Clayton the sheriff of a Mormon community called Brigham that has earned the nick name Paradise because it has never recorded a serious crime in its 100-year history.
That all changes one sleepy day when Wes and his deputy Terry (Matthew A. Brown) discover the mutilated body of a female motorist.
Within days, two more women are murdered but this time they are local girls.
A serpent has found its way into Paradise.
Because Wes is also an elder in the local church, his duties as spiritual leader and law enforcer constantly overlap. This allows Dutcher the writer and director the excuse to bring the cameras into church services and meetings to show viewers how Mormons worship and conduct their lives.
The digressions actually help build tension and suspense.
The final 15 minutes of the film is chilling as Dutcher manages to cast suspicion on at least three characters thus putting three other characters in mortal danger.
Brigham City manages to disguise its low-budget, independent roots.
It's a well-made, well-acted, baffling thriller that is not afraid to show that there are saints and sinners in every religion.
Who would want to see a movie titled "Brigham City"? Have you ever driven by that town? It's one of those northern Utah, depressing roadside holes that prompts feelings of suffocation at the thought of having to live there. Could this movie be anything more than the story of some old geezer on a family history quest? It turns out to be much more, actually.
Amidst the tranquility and innocence of a small Mormon town there lurks a serial killer. In a town where everbody knows each other, and doors are never locked, everyone becomes a suspect. This murder mystery is surprizingly tense. If you're not surprized in the end, then . . . well, I guess you're just smarter than me.
But the murder mystery element isn't the only good ingredient in this story. In this film, Richard Dutcher has taken "Mormon cinema" to a much different level than in God's Army. As the first of this genre, God's Army gave the world a somewhat intimate glimpse into the LDS world, albeit not as Mormon culture-cheerleading propaganda. The movie confronted issues of faith in a realistic approach. Brigham City digs deeper and into a darkness less approachable. There are guaranteed to be those who question the showing of a baptism, the sacrament, and praying--all in a movie involving a serial killer (I realize this review is getting too involved - - blame Katie). But . . . . . . . that's it. If you want to know what I think about this aspect of the movie, ask me. If you want to talk to someone who finds it offensive, call Katie at 356-.
At any rate, despite a little bit wanting in the acting department, I think this movie is well made, deep, and thought provoking. For one, it has taken a seemingly played-out genre--murder mystery, and given it new life. The Mormon element also enhances it's uniqueness without zealously celebrating LDS culture. You need to see it.
*** 1/2 [3.5 stars]
3 out of 4 stars
I wasn't expecting much when I went to see Brigham City, a low budget movie made by the new 'Zion Films' which is a newer film company started by writer/director/actor Richard Dutcher whom stars as the title role as the Sheriff of a sleepy religious town. It's apparent that the goal of Zion Films is to make quality wholesome entertainment about and for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and as much as I typically would not be attracted to this type of film, I have to give it to Richard Dutcher, that after seeing his previous film 'Gods Army' and now this, it is apparent that he may have the beginnings of a new genre of film.
Now on with the review: The film is basically a murder mystery set in a very small rural hickish town called Brigham City. Most of the town is the same religion and the Sheriff of the town happens to also be a Bishop. The story is basically a murder mystery and revolves around the Sheriff who is constantly torn between his duties as a Sheriff and a Bishop and how to handle the apparent serial killer situation in 'his' town. He is weighed down with a heavy sense of being the town's protector both in a spiritual sense and physical, and as the movie goes on we see him slowly unravel his usual stoic demeanor.
The film is obviously low budget and doesn't incorporate any action to write home about. The cast is all unknowns except for Wilford Brimley who plays the retired sheriff trying to help out on the murder mystery. For unknowns, the cast returns to the audience a decent performance with varied characters. The pacing is slow at first and uses classic film school techniques to try and mislead 'who done it' all along. But all the while the story and characters keep you interested enough to not check your watch during the film.
I really didn't expect to like this film, as my girlfriend dragged me to it. I finally gave in because I was supposed to work on this film and couldn't get out of bed that morning so I wanted to see what I missed out on. I have to say that it was a good film, and the ending was almost shocking and very satisfying with an emotional twist at the very end.
This film isn't playing everywhere, but I would recommend seeing it, and maybe taking your family to it, as it is practically rated G. This movie shows that a film company set out to make wholesome movies may very well succeed, and that you don't need to have over-the-top violence and action to make a film worth seeing nor do you need a mouse for a mascot to be family oriented.
Directed by: Richard Dutcher
Starring: Richard Dutcher and Wilford Brimley
A small-town sheriff in Utah (Richard Dutcher, who also wrote, produced and directed) finds his faith tested when a serial killer surfaces in his picture-perfect community. Mormon auteur Dutcher, whose God's Army was a similar one-man show last year, has good film instincts to go with his devout feelings, and he makes an honest effort to express his religious principles in a non-dogmatic fashion. He also draws fine performances from his cast, most of whom are unknowns (veteran Wilford Brimley as the sheriff's retired predecessor is the one exception). On the downside, the characters Dutcher creates are more interesting than the story he tells, and, as a director, he lets the pacing flag as the climax approaches, just as he should be cranking up the suspense.
The latest film from the producer of God's Army is a murder mystery set in the fictional Mormon town of Brigham. The presence of a serial killer in a town where there's never been a murder makes for confusion, suspicion, and some unusual law enforcement procedures. At the center of the maelstrom is Wes, the town's sheriff and a bishop (leader of one of the town's seventeen local LDS congregations). Wes works with his deputy, Terry, the retired sheriff, Stu, and his secretary and lab tech, Peg. He also works with FBI agents from the Salt Lake City field office to solve the murders.
Wes, played well by producer/director/writer Richard Dutcher, has to make an inner journey from believing the first murder has nothing to do with the town, to believing that an outsider (or at least a non-Mormon) must have committed the crimes, to realizing that the murderer may be a Mormon resident of the town, to feeling that he is responsible for failing to prevent the murders. The script is somewhat heavy-handed in presenting and then absolving possible murderers, but when the red herrings have been created and the actual murderer is revealed, the viewer has the simultaneous satisfaction of being surprised and of realizing that the clues subtly pointed to the killer all along. The movie is worth seeing at least twice, if only to see how the bread crumbs were scattered along the path.
Brigham City is more than just a mystery to be solved, however. The accurate representation of a small Utah Valley Mormon town is fun to watch whether it is already familiar or not. Wes, as sheriff and bishop, sometimes feels that his roles conflict, but he also knows how to galvanize the boys and then the men of the town (through the church organization) to pass out fliers to every home in town and to search from home to home for a girl who is missing.
There is nothing offensive in Brigham City despite the rough subject matter. However, this is not a movie for children--even the most careful treatment of unfortunate aspects of a story cannot overcome the fact that this is a story about a good man faced with the job of tracking a serial killer. As one character wisely notes, the town of Brigham is "a paradise--and nothing attracts a serpent like a paradise." The movie is intense and sometimes frightening but if serial killers and danger to the town are adult themes, then so are the themes of sacrifice, redemption, guilt, sorrow, and absolution as they are presented here in a manner that especially touches the LDS viewer because the doctrines and the experiences are familiar.
The serpent leaves tracks but Dutcher spares us the worst ugliness, where most filmmakers would linger on the gruesome realities. There are no shots of dead bodies, only the horrified reactions of those who find two of the victims. (Although there are glimpses of crime scene photos, they are mostly hidden by photos of the victims when they were living, reminding us that these were lovely young women whose lives were stolen and not just "bodies.") The small amount of violence is presented indirectly or well-justified in self-defense. A closet that apparently contains pornographic photos is seen only in part -- a photo of a face, perhaps -- and the reactions of the characters are enough to establish that the contents are indecent. A few swear words may be spoken in shock or humor, but they are far outweighed by the scenes of sacrament meeting, where the townspeople take the sacrament, or communion. The second sacrament meeting scene is symbolic of the true meaning of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made and its meaning for the people of Brigham. It is exceptionally moving and well done.
The unexpected treat of the movie is Carrie Morgan, who plays the sheriff's secretary, Peg, and establishes herself on the big screen as a terrific actor who creates a down-to-earth, believing, witty woman. Movie lovers will appreciate Peg's backhanded tribute to one of Violet's lines in It's A Wonderful Life. If Dutcher is going to continue to use the same actors from film to film, then he should write a part for Carrie Morgan as often as he can.
Brigham City is another triumph for Richard Dutcher and Zion Films. A story interweaving the characters' beliefs with intense events is always fascinating. A story that portrays a growing faith community as interesting, while preserving accuracy, is always welcome. A story that wrenches the heart and uplifts the soul is a rare jewel in the world of counterfeit feelings so often seen in movies today.
"Brigham City" directed and written by Richard Dutcher, starring Richard Dutcher, Matthew A. Brown, Wilford Brimley, and Carrie Morgan.
Produced by Zion Films, 2001. 90 minutes.
A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****): *** 1/2
Filled with actors who deliver such flawless performances that you have to keep reminding yourself that they're just acting.
If you're getting tired of your local multiplex, which has Hogwarts playing on every screen, you might be in the mood to seek out something different. How much more different can you get than a Mormon murder mystery? A bigger surprise than the identity of the killer is the quality of the production, featuring heart-felt, honest and sometimes humorous performances. Set in the small Utah town of Brigham, the film is filled with actors who deliver such flawless performances that you have to keep reminding yourself that they're just acting.
The engrossing naturalism of BRIGHAM CITY, by writer, director and star Richard Dutcher, will not come as any surprise to those who saw his first picture, GOD'S ARMY, one of last year's most financially successful independent films. It is refreshing to see a movie that treats religion as a positive force in life. In Hollywood movies, the church is almost always a chief source of villains, not saviors.
One day on the outskirts of Brigham, Sheriff Wes Clayton (Dutcher) and his deputy Terry (Matthew A. Brown), come upon an abandoned blood-red Mustang convertible with interior to match, thanks to a victim's blood. The sheriff is very protective of his tiny town, claiming that everyone there dies of natural causes. The only thing that pleases him about the crime scene is that the car has California plates. He figures that the killer was an outsider, and the dead woman just picked her freeway off ramp at random. (Wilford Brimley adds his marquee name to the production as the retired sheriff who helps in the investigation.)
Besides trying to solve the murder mystery, we also become quite intrigued by Wes, a sheriff with an interesting background. A quiet, reserved man, he has a bum leg caused by an accident that killed his wife and child and forever scarred him. Soon the murders become an epidemic, and it's clear that he can't shield his town since the murderer must be among them. Among the film's many touching moments, none is better than the time Wes goes to the family of one of the murder victims to tell them that their daughter has been killed. In this scene of quiet and palpable power don't be surprised if your eyes tear up. And, if you don't shed a tear of bittersweet joy during a communion episode towards the end, you'll want to have your tear ducts checked.
Besides working as a drama and a mystery, the movie is also a pretty effective comedy. "Would you mind?" Judy (Jayne Luke) asks Wes, her sheriff and her bishop. "I've never confessed my sins to a man with a gun before." He's happy to take off his firearms and hear what she has to say. Another time, two of the local senior citizens reflect on where the police are investigating. "I drove by. Every cop in town was there," says one. "We only have two cops," replies the other.
The story blends together belief in Mormonism with the troubles that the town is facing. In one scene, a Sunday school teacher, speaking about an episode from the Bible, asks her adult class, "Do we have to lose our innocence to gain wisdom?" We then cut to the sheriff, who is forced to examine photographs of a dead body that he'd rather not have to examine.
In a time of war, when our nation is pulling together, we couldn't have a better role model that the little town of Brigham. In good times and bad, this community pulls together to help its citizens. Possibly the best and most accurate compliment paid to the sheriff is that he is, quite simply, "a good man." And, likewise, BRIGHAM CITY is a good movie and one well worth seeking out.
BRIGHAM CITY runs 1:59. It is rated PG-13 for "violence and thematic material" and would be acceptable for kids around 10 and up.
The film is playing in limited release now in the United States. In the Silicon Valley, it will be showing at the Camera Cinemas beginning on Friday, December 7, 2001.
Wes Clayton, the character played by Richard Dutcher in Brigham City, is the sheriff in the small, close-knit, tranquil Utah town of Brigham, where most of the residents are L.D.S., they routinely address each other as "Brother" and "Sister" rather than "Mister" or "Missus," and there is a feeling of community that not only provides a sense of respite but also of being away from the mainstream, where the daily news carries a litany of crimes being perpetrated large and small. Just about the only dispute in town seems to be between those who want to listen to country music and those who don't. (Rap and rave have apparently not yet made an inroad, there.)
Wes is not only the town sheriff, but he is also a bishop for one of the local Latter Day Saints wards, making it not uncommon for citizens who are also church members to approach him at the office regarding urgent matters which are, as Wes terms them, of a "spiritual" rather than "temporal" nature. (Wes tries to discourage this, for the simple reason that he does not want to use up time when he's being paid to act as sheriff, but he will make exceptions.) He also seems to have found an equilibrium for these two responsibilities, but at a cost. His careful, even courtly, demeanor is partly the result of his suffering a great tragedy, involving the loss of his wife and son, and he has one leg in a brace as a memento of the calamity.
When a murder victim turns up at, appropriately, the outskirts of Brigham, Wes wants to contain the situation and handle it within the town's jurisdiction, but circumstances dictate the involvement of F.B.I. agents from outside. When a second body turns up -- right after the town stages its 138th anniversary celebration -- news crews materialize, and the mediaspeak term "serial killer" is invoked. Asked if there was ever a murder in the town of Brigham before, Wes replies, curtly, unhesitatingly, and even resentfully, "Never."
While Brigham City functions on one level as a murder mystery, it also serves as a depiction of what happens when a community finds itself in an inexorable situation of disruption and change. Fliers are issued from the police station to residents: Wes, in his capacity as bishop, calls upon the young boys who are Aaronic Priesthood holders in his ward to distribute them, somewhat like Brigham's own version of the Baker Street Irregulars. People start drawing the blinds on the windows facing each other's houses. Residents become openly emotional, and those who look like they aren't acting emotional enough over what has happened are looked at askance.
When a young girl disappears and it is feared that she may become the next murder victim, door-to-door searches are conducted by the men in the community, in pairs: Wes lays down specific instructions, ranging from being as polite as possible about the business at hand to making sure that they do not split-up from each other at any time. For those who had served on missions for the Church and clocked some hours knocking on doors, Wes reassures them that this will simply be just like "in the old days."
The story plants its share of red herrings, and it has one scene with a "jump" in it that I haven't seen since whatever the last numeric installment of Scream was. (The filmmakers apparently just could not resist the urge.) One of the residents turns out to have a very good reason, indeed, for not wanting to have his residence searched: he has a secret, but it turns out to be a very fallible one, a frailty rather than a crime, but the film conveys a full sense of what the character would feel once other people in the community found out about him, and how they would never look at him in the same way again.
Dutcher, who also wrote and directed the film, has earlier voiced his commitment to making films which would involve L.D.S. aspects of life, and Brigham City includes one scene where, as one of the late-night sessions at the police station finally winds down and the fate of the missing girl is still up in the air, last-minute checks are made and someone suggests that, before they leave, a moment of prayer might not be entirely out of order. Lead by Peg (Carrie Morgan), the engagingly spunky woman who works as secretary at the station, we steady ourselves for a moment of respectful piety and instead see how this provides a way where the people involved, taxed to their endurance, are able to draw together, re-forge their commitment and unity to the task at hand, and express some deep emotion and concern that they might have otherwise kept locked-up inside.
Morgan's performance (she introduces the debate over the pros and cons of country music in the film) is one of several fine ones in the picture, which has been splendidly photographed, against backgrounds of greens, oranges, and golds, by cinematographer Ken Glassing. Matthew A. Brown, the untried missionary who was the central character in Dutcher's last film, God's Army, shows considerable range here as Wes' deputy Terry, who lives in town with a wife and child (and another on the way), but nonetheless has moments where he chomps at the bit to find out what's going on out there in the teeming world beyond. Wilford Brimley plays Stu, the town's former sheriff who still stops in to help out at the station every day, and he turns out to be wonderful, providing the film with some, if not exactly blasts, than good gusty expulsions of irascible air. (One surprising aspect about the film: the moments of humor that occur without throwing the film as a whole off-kilter.) And Tayva Patch plays the F.B.I. agent, Meredith, who stays in Brigham until the investigation is concluded. She and Wes could very easily have been thrown together during the course of events to become a romantic duo. Instead, there is an unspoken acknowledgment between the two that they could take the first tentative steps towards having a relationship if they wanted to, but it is never forced, and it is never agonized over. It lends the film a very welcome air of subtlety.
As a performer, Dutcher has become an actor who can communicate a great deal while doing very little. Wes emerges as a man who does not go in for expressions of high emotion: he only raises his voice a couple of times during the story, even with the specter of the town that has come to form the fulcrum of his life unraveling around him, and even then it is only briefly. When Wes says that a murder has "never" occurred in Brigham, it is because that is how he wants to see the town: as has been shown over the last century alone, horrors can occur just about anywhere, under any circumstances. What's remarkable about Wes is how he never loses his capacity to feel, especially towards others -- his character could have easily become embittered or closed-off. Wes does not seem to want to become like that because it would be a way for the brutality that he so disdains in the "outside" world to gain a foothold within himself and claim a victory. The weariness and sorrow that seem to limb his eyes and features betray what must be an ongoing internal struggle, day by day. One of the most affecting moments I've seen in any film this year has to do with when Wes is shown going through his daily routine of placing one fresh-picked flower at the site where his wife and son are buried. It's not just the visit or gesture that makes the scene, but the moment when Wes, off-handedly, sweeps clear with one hand any dirt or debris that has collected at the base of the markers.
The killer is, indeed, apprehended by the end of Brigham City (and, not to fear, I would be loathe to reveal who it is, here, but I would have liked to have been in the audience during the film's premiere showing: they must have let out quite a yelp). But at the same time a considerable dilemma is created. Wes has carried out his duty as a law enforcer, but can he continue to function as a spiritual leader? The question is answered in a closing sequence which is, in a word or two, absolutely extraordinary, and played out with almost no spoken dialogue, showing how Wes acknowledges his regret, and how the community, which is composed of both his friends and the people to whom he is supposed to be serving as bishop, reforms and regroups once more. It is the kind of scene which could hold its own against two others, Bibi Andersson's monologue in Ingmar Bergman's Persona, and the breathtaking closing scene in Terence Davies' The Long Day Closes: scenes in which, once you start watching them, you get an idea of what it is that they are trying to accomplish, and while you're watching to see if the scenes can possibly sustain themselves well enough accomplish what they have set out to do, the anticipation heightens the dramatic and emotional effect. (And, believe me, this is a comparison that I do not make lightly.)
Brigham City is a picture that is set within an L.D.S. community and whose ideas are essentially universal, so it has the advantage of being a film that is both dramatically engaging and has something on its mind. Just this past week, at the annual Cannes festival, Jean-Luc Godard, in person and in his new film, announced his disgust with the lack of current films that traffic in any genuine ideas of their own. ("No wonder you need other people's stories," two characters in Godard's Eloge de l'Amour reportedly tell some American producers who are trying to buy the rights to a true story about French resistance fighters, "You don't have any of your own.") Dutcher being mentioned in the same breath as Bergman, Terence Davies, and Godard? He may very well come over and whack me on the back of the head for that, but I don't care. Just as long as he keeps making movies.
And, oh, yeah, the guy with the big nose and the bandanna who plays McKay, the proprietor of the only bar in Brigham, what's his name, Tim Hansen, that's it, he's not too bad. We miss you tremendously, Timmy.
Brigham City is a picture that is set within an L.D.S. community and whose ideas are essentially universal, so it has the advantage of being a film which is both dramatically engaging and has something on its mind. Just this past week, at the annual Cannes festival, Jean-Luc Godard, in person and in his new film, espoused his deplorance over the lack of current films which traffic in any genuine ideas of their own. ("No wonder you need other people's stories," two characters in Godard's "Eloge de l'Amour" reportedly tell some American producers who are trying to buy the rights to a true story about French resistance fighters, "you don't have any of your own.") Dutcher being mentioned in the same breath as Bergman, Terence Davies, and Godard? He may very well come over and whack me on the back of the head for that, but I don't care. Just as long as he keeps making movies which are as insightful, evocative, engaging (and, also, entertaining) as this one.
Words in Document: 702
*** [3 stars out of 4]
On the town. The sheriff of Brigham City ([Richard Dutcher], left) and his deputy ([Matthew A. Brown]) patrol the streets. Trouble arrives when an outsider is found murdered in the Utah town. More murders follow. ZION FILMS BOX: Review 'Brigham City' *** Cast: Richard Dutcher, Matthew A. Brown, [Wilford Brimley]. Director: Richard Dutcher. Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes. Industry rating: PG-13 (parents ...
** [2 stars out of 4]
Brigham is a fictional town in Utah where the people attend church on Sundays, wave to each other and don't lock their doors at night. "Brigham City" is a quiet little movie about how violence and fear can affect the residents of a small religious community.
This is the second film from writer/director Richard Dutcher, whose low-budget premiere film, "God's Army," dealt with Mormon missionaries in present-day Los Angeles. The Mormon religion is again a large element of this new film, but this time it's wrapped around a murder mystery.
Dutcher stars as Wes Clayton, one of Brigham's 17 bishops and the town's only sheriff. He is known as "Bishop" to most of the townspeople. A recent widower, he passes his days fairly quietly. Then, on a routine call, he and his deputy Terry (Matthew A. Brown) stop to investigate an abandoned vehicle with out-of-state plates and happen upon the body of a woman.
The coroner and FBI are called in, but Bishop asks them to keep things quiet. He doesn't want the sleepy town disturbed by the grisly murder. A few days later, another body is discovered, and the sheriff realizes not only that he may not be able to keep things secret anymore, but that he may be dealing with a serial killer.
It's great to see Wilford Brimley as the retired county sheriff, Stu. He uses his grandfather-next-door persona to great effect. Less convincing are Brown as the deputy who is glad to finally have some action in town, and Tayva Patch as a New York FBI agent who becomes intrigued with the Mormon religion.
Dutcher the actor does a commendable job as the sheriff, especially in the more emotional scenes. As a director and writer he fares less well, stooping to more than a few horror-film cliches in keeping the audience from guessing the killer's identity. And he needs a better editor. Several scenes in this movie progress at a snail's pace.
Rating: 5 [out of 5]
Small, sleepy Brigham, population 4,128, has a volunteer fire department and a police force of two. People know their neighbors, nobody locks doors, and everyone goes to church on Sundays. County sheriff Wes Clayton (Richard Dutcher) and his lone deputy, Terry Woodruff (Matthew A. Brown), spend most of their time dealing with small-scale crises like an overflowing irrigation ditch and horse droppings on Main Street after the Founder's Day parade. Wes works harder as the bishop of a local Mormon congregation than he does at keeping the law -- and that's the way he likes it. When he stumbles across a corpse near a blood-spattered Ford convertible abandoned on the outskirts of town, the status-quo-loving lawman is anxious to let the FBI investigate the matter and to keep the citizens of Brigham out of it. Then a second body turns up in the heart of town, and suddenly Wes must confront the grim possibility that there's a wolf in the fold.
The do-it-all Dutcher, who wrote, directed, and produced Brigham City just months after sending his debut project (the 2000 release God's Army) into theaters, is a filmmaker of abundant promise. Like Wes, Dutcher is Mormon, but Brigham City is not a niche movie. Mormonism is a prominent dimension of its plot -- indeed, Dutcher's moving examination of religious assurance strained by cruel circumstance adds welcome depth to the entire enterprise. But moviegoers of any (or no) religious persuasion can share in the simple satisfaction of his tense, well-spun murder mystery.
Dutcher is excellent in the movie's most complex role: In addition to being both the secular and spiritual leader of Brigham, Wes is a widower recently bereft of his wife and young son. Dutcher wears these ever-present griefs like an old shirt, and as the body count rises and the townspeople increasingly look to their sheriff for protection, he weaves anger, guilt, and desperation into Wes' weary mien. Several of the key supporting players give equally strong performances, including Brown, Carrie Morgan as Wes' no-nonsense secretary, Tayva Patch as the lead FBI investigator, and Wilford Brimley as the crusty former sheriff with a supportive hand planted firmly on his protege's shoulder. Brimley's trademark grandfatherly gruffness has, in fact, rarely if ever been employed more effectively.
As director, Dutcher consistently and subtly strikes chords of loss that reverberate long after the movie has ended -- in spirit, his movie frequently rivals the bleakness of Seven. Perhaps his most resonant composition is a tableau that contains two weeping adults and a squalling infant: The child is crying because he doesn't understand what has just happened; the adults are crying because they understand perfectly that something horrible and life-altering has happened. It's a grim, wrenching moment, and Dutcher has the emotional honesty to never blink from his script's inherent despair. (He also has the dexterity to handle a well-modulated redemptive subtext that sows strong seeds of hope in an astonishing, dialogue-free denouement.)
To be sure, the movie's tightly-wound scenario has been struck from a familiar mold. (Though, in that same vein, it's refreshing to encounter a thriller with a story rich enough that it cannot be concluded merely by the dispatching of its villain.) Some of Dutcher's red herrings are fairly strenuously overplayed, and one sequence in particular, in which a scan of hundreds of sets of fingerprints turns up a potential clue only on the very last set of prints tested, is a bit much. Never mind. Imperfection is certainly a hallmark of humanity, and Brigham City is nothing if not human.