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The Work And The Glory
cast: Sam Hennings, Brenda Strong, and Eric Johnson

directors: Russ Holt and Sterling Vanwagenen

300 minutes (12) 2008
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 2/10
reviewed by Ben J. Lamb
Based on the series of books by Gerald N. Lund, The Work And The Glory trilogy offers a dramatised account of the founding of the Mormon church as seen through the eyes of the fictional Steed family.

In the first film the steed family acquire some land in western New York in 1826. New to the area, the head of the family Benjamin Steed hires two local boys Joe Smith and his brother as farmhands. However it soon becomes apparent that Joseph holds a controversial reputation in town for being somewhat of a religious freak. Although this does not bother Benjamin's son Nathan who instantly befriends Joe, transfixed by his accounts of being visited by God on several occasions and his belief in the existence of a golden bible. Meanwhile, Benjamin's eldest son Joshua falls in with the local rough crowd and disowns himself from the family. On his departure Joshua's love interest, Lydia McBride, who works in the local hardware store, finds herself falling for his brother instead. When Joshua gets wind of this he takes it upon himself to fight Ben, Nathan and Joe.

But his plans soon fail as he his overpowered by the three men and he subsequently flees to Missouri where he becomes a professional gambler. With Joshua out of the picture Nathan is baptised into the Mormon movement by his friend Joe and gets engaged to Lydia much against her father's wishes. The film ends with Joe preparing the Mormons on a journey to find Zion which he believes exists within America and Ben, who was initially sceptical about his family becoming Mormons, allowing his family to go as well.

This film is certainly the most eventful of the trilogy, but it is by no means an exciting watch. The characters here are extremely hard to empathise with and the acting itself is below par at best. The head of the local mob Will Murdoch played by John Woodhouse in particular is extremely wooden. But the most unconvincing aspect to this film is Joshua's supposed downfall. In no time at all he suddenly turns evil. He merely acquires a beard and a more gravely tone to his voice which hardly constitutes a convincing transition in character. Similarly the tension between the two brothers never translates from the screen to involve the viewer. This is not the great struggle the filmmakers were trying to express.

In the second film, titled American Zion, Nathan and Lydia marry, her father attempts to usurp the marriage but Ben prevents him from doing so by scaring him away. In no time at all the Mormon movement arrive, make camp and begin building a temple in Ohio as this is where Joe perceives Zion to be.

Meanwhile in Missouri, Josh marries a woman named Jess who he promises to provide a better life for. But before long his gambling addiction takes over and the relationship does not work out. Extremely bitter and annoyed by some Mormons who have also set up camp nearby he leads a group of vigilantes to terrorise them and shutdown the local Mormon press. When Joe and his followers hear what is happening he leads an expedition from Ohio to Missouri to help the Mormons fight for their land back. When Joe's Mormon army arrive Joshua's mob is waiting for them. However before the battle can commence Joe prays to God who directly intervenes by producing a severe downpour of rain which causes Josh's mob to retreat.

The blurb to this particular film in the trilogy reads that American Zion "follows a young man with divine vision who rises up against injustice in 19th century Missouri," but this is never the case. At no point is does this feel like a 'divine vision' as it is more along the lines of the ramblings of a madman. It is also hard to feel he is rising up against injustice when it is far easier to empathise with the 'evil' mobs.

In the concluding part to the trilogy called A House Divided a reformed Josh moves to Jacksonville where he finds yet another woman who he proceeds to marry. Meanwhile the Mormons come to realise they have no funds left in their bank account and struggle to survive as they must battle with local armies once again. Josh later realises the errors of his ways and returns to his family. To protect them and the rest of the Mormon movement he permanently scares the angry locals and his former friends away for good.

The ending to this, the concluding film of the trilogy, is a severe anticlimax not to mention contradictory nonsense. The film ends with Joshua scaring away the stereotypical angry mob and returning to his father who forgives him. At this point a narrative voiceover wraps up the trilogy by claiming that the Mormons had now found Zion in this place. Other more pressing factors such as their severe funding problem is never mentioned again and we are to presume it is all alright now anyway as Zion has been found. Similarly the idea of the golden bible which was the main reason for Joe's pilgrimage is slowly brushed under the carpet as the trilogy progresses.

Overall for the duration of these three films we are constantly preached to about the Mormans' cause. Never are we truly explained to, involved or made to understand such a cause which from the very start seems pointless and unnecessary. Instead of being embraced by such a movement and their cause, which I presume is the point of a Mormon funded project; we are actually singled out as viewers.

The stern head of the Steed family, Ben, is the only family member with any sense but he is too easily converted. It is not a gradual religious awakening but after two and half films he simply decides to get baptised. His reasoning seems to be that he wants to unite with the Mormons to fight back against his evil son. However, seeing as his son returns at the end surely he should return to his senses.

The whole trilogy is religious propaganda, a plain chore to watch full of two-dimensional characters. It does not represent a 'significant step forward' for the Mormon film industry as the blurb explains but it is more of a step backwards. Unless you are already devoted to such an ideology you will not be converted any time soon.
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