The shock and awe of “God’s Army 2: States of Grace”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that director Richard Dutcher has fashioned not only the most controversial LDS-themed film to date, but also without question the finest one as well. His previous efforts, the original “”God’s Army” and “Brigham City,” were groundbreaking films that proved the filmmaker was willing to take risks and confront weighty matters while maintaining the subtext of his religion’s culture.
No other major films had so brazenly displayed sacred ordinances being performed, or shown missionaries as flawed, complex people, or dared to examine homicide in a rural Mormon town.
If you thought Dutcher’s previous works were edgy, just wait until you discover “God’s Army 2: States of Grace.” Though it shares little with its predecessor except for a few returning ensemble characters and a southern California locale, “States of Grace” ratchets up the emotional tension to a whole new level. And it’s at once courageous and exhilarating.
Elders Lozano and Farrell (Ignacio Serricchio and Lucas Fleischer) are missionary companions who live and work near the pier on Santa Monica beach. A drive-by shooting leads to a relationship with angry, hardened gang leader Carl (Lamont Stephens, resembling a young Shaquille O’Neal). Later, the two take in homeless street preacher Louis (Jo-Sei Ikeda), and meet their neighbor Holly, a pretty aspiring actress with a troubled past (Rachel Emmers).
Dutcher deftly weaves the stories around each other while exploring the anguish of regret, exposing how difficult it is to achieve the transformational power the gospel promises. The two missionaries, (Serricchio is clearly the better actor), are instrumental in helping the others change. But one of the film’s strengths is its willingness to portray its heroes as fragile.
In one particularly moving sequence, a priesthood ordinance is juxtaposed against a back-alley stabbing. Cinematographer Ken Glassing’s work leaves an indelible mark, capitalizing on Dutcher’s keen sense of drama without slipping into contrivance.
The metaphorical ending will no doubt polarize audience members. But Dutcher nonetheless gets points for sticking with it and practically forcing his audience to get the message. As in his other films he proves the power of restrained suggestion rather than graphic provocation. That kind of gutsy filmmaking– especially in an industry replete with cynicism– deserves high praise. Years from now, it’s possible that “God’s Army 2: States of Grace” will be considered a major landmark in LDS filmmaking– a “Crash” for Mormons. For now, it’s quite simply one of the most impressive films of the year.
Rated PG-13 for some intense scenes of violence and mature thematic material