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[whitespace] 'Brigham City'
Freeze or I'll Proselytize: Writer/director Richard Dutcher plays a Mormon sheriff in his new film, 'Brigham City.'

LDS Trip

'Brigham City' is a Mormon who-done-it

By Richard von Busack

IN SOME RESPECTS, Brigham City, a calm, well-photographed and reasonably well-acted movie, is also a lunatic picture. Mostly, it's straightforward propaganda for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, presenting a Utah town named Brigham as if it were the "before" scenes in a David Lynch picture. Though the action is set in the present, Brigham is 1950s friendly--tidy, and white as snow. The darkest secret is that one of the minor characters has (gasp) a closet full of pornography, for which he weeps forgiveness after it's been discovered. (This sinner has glasses and a chin beard; in a Cold War movie, he would have been the one with the hidden portrait of Stalin.)

Outside the pale of the town are suspicious places where beer and cigarettes can be purchased; inside the town, the most Dionysian revelry is the centennial parade. And watching over Brigham is a morose, sensitive sheriff, Wes (played by director/writer Richard Dutcher), who is also one of the town's 17 Mormon bishops. He's discovers--and tries to cover up--the first in a series of murders.

What Brigham City shares with Twin Peaks--and this is admirable--is its sense of heavy mourning for the victims of a serial killer; the face of one beams from a photo in fancy picture frame just as Laura Palmer's face did. The sheriff, a widower, and neither a violent nor a vengeful man, has a crisis that shakes his faith, and we feel his own guilt at how his prejudice against outsiders interferes with his solving of the case.

Dutcher's underplaying gives this by-now run-of-the-mill murder story some freshness. And the killer is no cackling madman, but a weeping victim of a compulsion. Fairer than that, I can't get. Dutcher has wrapped, in the easily sold package of a girl-killer movie, a plea for the reasonableness of the Mormon faith. An FBI agent, Meredith (Tayva Patch, a little on the frozen side), is attracted to the creed's simplicity. She has a partner who drops out of the story; he's a "jack Mormon," a Mormon reprobate, who says he's just taking a vacation from the faith. Dutcher immediately cuts to a pile of horse shit to show us what he thinks of such talk. And while the scenery is lovely in this Utah valley, Dutcher is just not up to Peter Weir in Witness in making the tenets of an extremely restrictive religion look as wholesome as the countryside itself. Beware of what this movie is trying to sell so uncritically. The idea of one man with authority for both faith and the law is far more terrifying than any number of lurking maniacs.

Brigham City (PG-13; 119 min.), directed and written by Richard Dutcher, photographed by Ken Glassing and starring Dutcher, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the December 6-12, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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