Faith is fascinating. A belief in something bigger than ourselves, in something bigger than our very world. Whether it’s christianity, judaism, islam, or any other, I’ve always found that stuff interesting. So explorations of that in film, tv, and other forms of media has often lead to good stories.
Disclaimer: I know this thing is based on a true story, but I will not base my review on how perfectly accurate to the real situation it may or may not be, but I will instead judge it as a movie… which it is. Disclaimer over.
Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “Under the Banner of Heaven”.
Utah, 1984. Devout mormon and detective Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) finds himself tested when the violent murder of a young woman seems to connect to a local, powerful LDS family. So we follow detective Pyre as he tries to solve this horrible crime, as well as how the deeper in he gets, the more his faith starts to waver. And through his investigation we also get a deep look into the Laffertys, the family at the center of this case, and what kinds of fundamentalist actions they get involved in. The show also explores mormonism as a whole, including its origins. “Under the Banner of Heaven” is filled to the brim with story, themes, and backstories, and while I do find most if not all of it fairly riveting, it can also feel like an absolute slog to get through at times. Like, all the pieces here have an emotionally rich texture to them and individually make for really engaging and at times thrilling experiences, but something about the overall structure does make it feel like a drag at times. Like I said, the story and drama is generally insanely riveting, it presents a nuanced and intense look into a massively fucked up and complex situation, but I do think something about its structure does hurt it too.
The characters in this are all insanely interesting and I found them endlessly compelling. Andrew Garfield plays Jeb Pyre (pronounced Pie-ree, as I learned through this), good cop, loving family man, devout mormon. He’s a deeply interesting protagonist with such a fascinating arc and personal conflict, and Andrew Garfield is absolutely fantastic in the role. The rest of the cast is well rounded as well, featuring people like Gil Birmingham, Sam Worthington (giving a career best performance), Daisy Edgar-Jones, Wyatt Russell, Rory Culkin, Billy Howle, Denise Gough, Adelaide Clemens, Chloe Pirrie, and many more, all delivering top notch performances.
The score for the show was composed by Jeff Ament and it was really good. It mixes a lot of familiar thriller droning with elements of ambient rock and even minor touches of a few subtle western cues, making for a really interesting and atmospheric score that I think adds a lot to the show and its emotional impact.
Based on a book by Jon Krakauer, “Under the Banner of Heaven” was developed for FX by Dustin Lance Black, with writing and directing by him and a bunch of cool people. And I think this is a really well helmed show, a lot of well thought out shots, a lot of suspensefully directed sequences, some very well handled (and disturbing) bursts of violence. It’s somehow both cinematic and somewhat real-feeling, balancing what makes for solid entertainment while still making it feel grounded and gritty and believable. It’s a tricky balance, but they nailed it.
While its pacing is bogged down by its hefty structure, “Under the Banner of Heaven” is still a compelling crime-drama that I can easily recommend. It has a really good story, great characters, fantastic performances, really good music, and great directing. Time for my final score. *Ahem, Amen*. My final score for “Under the Banner of Heaven” is an 8.32/10. So while it’s flawed, it’s still definitely worth watching.
My review of “Under the Banner of Heaven” is now completed.
And then god said “Yo, that Andrew Garfield guy’s pretty good at the whole acting thing” – The Book of Markus, 18:46.2