“The Work and the Glory: American Zion” needs some work to bring
While a minor improvement over its promising but sluggish predecessor, “The Work and the Glory: American Zion,” despite its authentic look, feels shallow and hastily edited. A knowledge of either church history, or a familiarity with the books by LDS author Gerald Lund from which the screenplay is adapted will help to fill in the gaps the superficial narrative overlooks. But in the end, audiences will feel frustrated by a film that has a lot of good elements going for it.
Another knock is the way the film seems to preach to the choir in its one-sided version of the fictional Steed family– Mormon converts who leave upstate New York in the 1830s at the urging of the young prophet Joseph Smith (Jonathan Scarfe), and try to settle in at Kirtland, Ohio amidst continual persecution.
This chapter in LDS history has plenty of compelling, true events from which to draw, and many of the film’s historically accurate scenes center on the charismatic prophet– a wise but ultimately underserved choice.
The film centers on Ben Steed (Sam Hennings), a non-member who reluctantly decides to move to Kirtland. His family includes dutiful son Nathan (Alexander Carroll), his wife Mary-Ann (Brenda Strong of “Desperate Housewives”), and strong-willed daughter Melissa (Brighton Hertford). Rebellious son Joshua (Eric Johnson) flees to Missouri where he summarily marries Jessica Roundy (Emily Podleski) and loses her through his own abusiveness.
Two important scenes are emblematic of the film’s problems. The first depicts the tarring and feathering of Smith– an all too common occurrence in the prophet’s life. Another shows Smith confronting an angry militia led by Lt. Governor Boggs by calling upon the very powers of heaven for a thunderous deliverance. Both scenes begin strongly but are truncated prematurely, and thus land with an emotional thud.
Apparently, childbirth warrants more screen time, and director Sterling Van Wagenen’s camera prefers to photograph seemingly countless numbers of expressionless faces. It can’t be a good thing that the movie allows time to ponder how, over a period of four years, Joshua is able to maintain a greasy hairstyle of exactly the same length.
Another installment is on the way (“A House Divided”), but this series deserves more seasoned direction and a screenplay that digs deeper into the tension, suffering and convictions of its subject material.
Rated PG-13 for some violence.