Richard Dutcher, Matthew Brown
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
"God's Army" Review
Independent filmmaker Richard Dutcher labored for three years to raise the $300,000 budget to produce "God's Army," a film that centers on the life of Mormon missionaries, their experiences, struggles, personal lives and life journeys.
Dutcher, whose first film, the romantic comedy "Girl Crazy" managed to break even after being sold to HBO, studied film at Brigham Young University and has become one of the leading voices in religious-based films. Most often, Mormonism is at the core of, or a central focus of Dutcher's films.
"God's Army" was the second of Dutcher's films, and after the three year effort to raise the funds necessary to make the film Dutcher found tremendous success and praise in a film that many view as the most honest portrait of LDS missionaries on film (SIDE NOTE: Just how many portraits of LDS missionaries are on film is unknown). The film ended up with box office receipts of over $2.5 million (admittedly, MUCH of it in Utah) and another $2.5 million in DVD sales/rentals.
The key to the film's success is that it's less preachy than what is often associated with religious films. These missionaries are seen as mind-bogglingly human with real feelings, needs, wants, and even desires. They struggle with real life issues, including one with Cancer. It is, in fact, this struggle with Cancer that may be one of the film's false notes. In speaking with other Mormons, many have said that a missionary with Cancer such as this person had would never be left in the field...even if that's what they truly wanted. True? Who's to say, but I still love the human touch of these scenes.
The film stars Matthew Brown as Elder Allen, a young missionary trying to adjust and deal with life and his own realities. Brown has appeared in just two films, this one and Dutcher's third film, "Brigham City," a somewhat controversial LDS based film that actually deals with a sheriff trying to track down a serial killer. Brown gives a solid performance as Elder Allen, a young and confused man who grows to be inspired by Elder Dalton (played by Dutcher himself). It is Dalton who is dealing with Cancer, and Dutcher does a wonderful job of portraying Dalton's convictions and yet almost unreasonable desire to maintain life as a missionary.
The entire supporting cast of unknowns provide perfect companionship to the film's script, and production design is basic but effective. Dutcher's direction is laid back, and he balances the scenes well with good pacing and a solid mix of lighter and dramatic moments.
"God's Army" got me hooked on Mormon cinema...to be honest, if you'd told me that I'd embrace this particular cinematic path I'd have laughed. Yet, because of Dutcher, it seems as other Mormons are now realizing that film can be a positive tool, an outreach and a way of making Mormonism seem less cultish to the general population. In "God's Army," we have real people...a "greenie" (new missionary) whose father is an imprisoned sexual predator...the aforementioned missionary with Cancer...and a missionary who is struggling with doubts while still trying to ease the minds of others with doubts.
People are often surprised I'm a minister...I'm a liberal, diversity embracing, free loving Jesus freak who believes that most of organized religion fails miserably at living out anything close to love. "God's Army" warms my heart because it celebrates the humanity within each of us even as we are trying to live and love and learn. It embraces us in our strengths and weaknesses, but still holds us accountable for living right and compassionately and with our eyes on the prize (whatever we, as individuals, believe that prize to be).
Richard Dutcher's vision of cinema that matters...cinema that is spiritually centered yet deeply human comes powerfully to life in "God's Army." Possessed with authenticity, honesty and tremendous heart "God's Army" is a film I highly recommend.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic