17 Miracles worthy of the trek to track down
Someday there will be a big budget, epic and suitably thrilling cinematic depiction of the incredible Mormon migration that began in 1856 wherein over 3,000 emigrants traveled on foot, many pulling handcarts, from the Midwest to join their fellow Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley.
For now we have “17 Miracles,” a poignant if flawed film in limited release that depicts the struggles and divine manifestations of the Willie company, a group of about 500 pioneers that left Florence (now Omaha) Nebraska and trekked through the most rugged of trails during the harshest of winters.
Called to be a sub-captain for the company upon his return from a three-year mission to Siam, young widower and father Levi Savage (sympathetic newcomer Jasen Wade, who resembles Brad Pitt as a pioneer) argues for the postponement of the trek because of the lateness in the season. He’s rebuked and overruled by leader Captain James G. Willie (an excellent Nathan Mitchell), but Savage promises to stay on and help as many as he can along the way.
Easily one of the best-shot LDS films ever-thanks in large part to director/writer/cinematographer T.C. Christiensen’s expertise-the story works best when it focuses on Savage’s determination and the ultimate sacrifice made by upwards of 68 men, women, and children.
One of the film’s best scenes is also its most tragic: a devastating montage showing the group’s final gruesome moments, including gaunt visages and lifeless corpses of the courageous pioneers who succumbed to the unforgiving elements of freezing temperatures, little food, and sparse supplies.
For a film so heavy in trauma, “17 Miracles” could have used less weeping and condensed scenes of prayer, and its plodding pace isn’t helped by the high number of slow motion effects.
The good news is at 102 minutes, the film doesn’t feel belabored. Upon the arrival of the biographical end credits, “17 Miracles” can’t help but exude a sense of wonder and reverence at the incomparable sacrifice of these ragged, ill-prepared but undeterred heroes who left a legacy worth remembering.
While “17 Miracles” won’t likely convert the masses at large (and really doesn’t aim to) it has the power to promote the faith of many a believer.
PG for thematic material involving hardships and suffering.