Under the Banner of Heaven Review: Dustin Lance Black’s adaption of Jon Krakauer’s true-crime novel about a gruesome double murder that shocked an isolated Mormon community in 1980s Utah stars the actor.
Characters with problematic or inconvenient issues are advised to “put things on the shelf” and look to the God-given powers above them; whether they are husbands or wives; on several occasions in FX’s Under the Banner of Heaven.
Parents or Mormon church leaders for their congregants. And they keep discovering that they can’t.
Their inquiries have a habit of plaguing them; keeping them awake at night and leading them down unexpected; thorny, and even terrifying paths.
Under the Banner of Heaven (which will be available on Hulu) begins as a fascinating murder mystery set in a supposedly pious; tranquil Mormon village and ends with some very difficult questions of its own.
But it’s the series’ persistence in asking not only who did it; but why and why again that elevates it to something more sophisticated; intelligent, and ultimately terrifying.
Under The Banner Of Heaven Cast
Under the Banner of Heaven combines two stories separated by more than a century; much like the true-crime bestseller on which it is based.
Brenda Wright Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones); a woman who married into a famous Utah Mormon family and was murdered with her infant daughter in 1984; is the subject of one of the films.
The other is a history of the early Mormon church; which dates back to the 1820s and places a greater emphasis on human sin and struggle than on heavenly inspiration.
Dustin Lance Black (Milk) adds a third character; Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield); a fictional Mormon officer investigating Brenda’s murder; to the miniseries adaption.
The first two stories are progressively revealed through flashbacks spurred by heated yet discursive conversations with suspects such as Brenda’s husband Allen Lafferty (Gil Birmingham) (Billy Howle).
Despite attempts to flesh up Jeb’s personal life with family issues and a religious crisis; Garfield’s limpid acting makes him easy to sympathize with.
Under the Banner of Heaven exudes serene assurance right from the start. Brenda’s death adds tension to the story, but it’s the show’s sense of humanity that’s hard to ignore.
David Mackenzie; who directed the first two episodes; adopts a handheld technique that draws the audience into the screen; making us virtually smell Jeb’s meticulously maintained suburban world.
Meanwhile, Black’s personality-driven dialogue explains the intricate web of ties between the dozen main characters more effectively and efficiently than paragraphs of boring exposition could.
Under the Banner of Heaven Movie Trailer
The series’ compassion sometimes takes the appearance of restriction.
When Jeb initially arrives at Brenda’s house; her dead body is barely shown briefly and from afar; never clearly enough to discern any significant detail, and her baby’s body is not shown at all.
- Instead; it relies on Jeb’s reactions; which cycle between tears; nausea, and near panic in fast succession to portray the horror of what he’s seen.
- The series avoids the trap of ogling the same brutality it claims to condemn by avoiding the lengthy; gory shots so frequent in the crime genre.
- Instead of focusing on the sensationalistic circumstances of Brenda’s death; Under the Banner of Heaven keeps its focus on who Brenda was in her life and why and how certain forces collided to terminate it.
- Flashbacks show a bright; devout young woman who would drop everything to assist a Mormon sister to reconnect with God or protect her struggling husband — and, at the same time; the men around her who wanted quiet subservience instead.
- Ron (Sam Worthington) and Dan (Allen) are Allen’s feuding brothers (Wyatt Russell, working in a vein reminiscent of his unsettling turn in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier).
- The third throughline in the series takes a bit longer to disclose its significance.
- When Allen brings up Joseph Smith during interrogation near the conclusion of the first episode, it’s primarily Howle’s raw portrayal that sells it as anything other than a weird deflection strategy.
The discomfort hasn’t completely faded by the second or third (of the five submitted to THR for evaluation, and of the series’ seven total), but a bigger design has begun to emerge.