FX / Hulu‘s big game for Emmy glory this incredible season is an adaptation of Jon Krakauer‘s excellent book from 2003 “Under the banner of heaven,” a historical analysis of the history of Mormonism in this country framed along with a dissection of a 1984 brutal murder case in the state of Utah. While the book had the context of the story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints origin and how it was distorted in the mindset of the fundamentalist sect of Mormonism that pushed Ron and Dan Lafferty to commit brutal murder, but the show feels at first like whether it would like to be more “True detective” and less Ken Burns, which is improved in the third and fourth sections, as it is more about a ruined community than a specific murder. Yet it is a program that sometimes gets lost between its ideas – awkwardly jamming flashbacks to the basis of this belief in a story that feels as if it desperately wants to be an edgy crime story. Luckily, a fantastic ensemble holds the project together, but it’s also another one of those series with several episodes that takes what could have been a brilliant 120-minute film and stretches it into a season. It’s becoming an epidemic.
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Directed by David Mackenzie (“Hell or high tide”) and Courtney Hunt (Frozen River) —A later section will also be directed by Isabel Sandoval (“Lingua Franca”) —And written by Dustin Lance Sort (“Milk”), “Under the Banner of Heaven” with Oscar nominees and everyone’s favorite Spider-Man Andrew Garfield as detective Jeb Pyre, called one night to a crime scene that would change his life forever. On July 24, 1984, someone brutally murdered Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter Erica. “Under the Banner of Heaven” opens with that murder and fills in character details about Pyre, while he investigates and flashes back to both Brenda Lafferty’s life and the LDS Church in general.
Pyre is married to Rebecca (a wasted one) Adelaide Clemens of “Right”) with his own daughters, and he is also a member of the church, making “Under the banner of heaven” another story of a man whose faith is shaken by seeing the darker side of what he believes in. He also loves his mother Josie (Sandra Seacat) who suffer from dementia. That Pyre is surrounded by women in his home outweighs him in relation to the details of a case and the story of a religion that is not exactly sympathetic to the notions of equality.
A fictional construct to tie the two halves of the book together, Pyre investigates the case with his partner, non-Mormon Bill Taba (Gil Birmingham), which means heavy interrogation of Brenda’s husband Allen (Billy Howle), of course, a first suspect in the brutal killings. Through flashbacks, the authors reveal how Allen Lafferty was part of a family called “The Kennedys of Utah,” dominated by the Ron brothers (Sam Worthington) and Dan (Wyatt Russell). After the latter became leader of the Lafferty clan, he began to return to extreme aspects of the church, including believing that his business should not pay taxes. He shook his head at the more progressive Brenda (Daisy Edgar-Jones), leaving Allen trapped in the middle while the smaller favorite son Ron watched. Denise Gough, Rory Culkin, Seth Numrichand Chloe Pirrie also play branches of this increasingly rotten family tree while the impressive Christopher Heyerdahl plays the brutal patriarch Ammon.
There are a lot of interrogation scenes in “Under the Banner of Heaven” that slowly fill in details about the Lafferty legacy with the occasional historical anecdote to allow for context that does not feel natural and rarely provides the intended depth. This leads to flashbacks by Joseph Smith (Andrew Burnap) in the 1820s, but the writing never securely binds these halves together, making them often feel like an unnecessary diversion. It might have worked to make a single flashback episode to provide the big coherence, but they often derail momentum.
More accomplished is the flashback to how the Lafferty family’s lineage under Dan’s increasingly uninhibited leadership led to the tragic murders. It is admirable that “Under the Banner of Heaven” becomes less and less a whodunit and more a whydunit – in an attempt to unpack how blind faith can lead to tragedy. Scripture allows principled and believing conversations to linger much longer than true crime fans might expect. It may lead to a glacial pace at first, but the space to breathe pays off in subsequent episodes when it becomes clearer that this is not a show like “True Detective” but more like Blacks “Great love”– It’s a program that works better when it’s considered drama more than mystery / thriller.
One of the reasons for that is the ensemble, led by an always efficient Garfield, who almost works best here in Pyre’s quiet moments, whether that’s the way he gathers at the unimaginable crime scene or contemplates how something Allen has just said about faith . also applies to him. Howle is sometimes reduced to a storyteller telling his family story from a police station, but he is an effective actor who always seems present in every scene in a way that adds essential truth to dialogue that can sometimes feel a little for on the nose. . Russell no doubt steals the show with the richest, scariest part, leaning into the side of his presence on screen that has always felt a bit dangerous. He’s captivating. Birmingham, Edgar-Jones, Worthington – there is no bad performance in this bunch.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why it’s easy to dream of the film version of this narrative, one that holds most of the history lesson and yet finds a way to place the Lafferty nightmare against the background of demented fundamentalism. The effort in “Under the banner of heaven” is the suggestion that those who kill in the name of faith follow a line that can be traced back to the origin of this faith. It’s a daring concept for a weekly drama, and the show gets stronger when you disconnect from the mysterious aspect of the set-up to see the bigger picture. While parts of the picture are blurry while others are overdeveloped, it is an admirably ambitious effort from everyone involved. [B-]