"God's Army" is a well-made independent movie about a 19-year-old Mormon missionary from Kansas adjusting to life in Los Angeles. Although the title communicates zealotry of the most off-putting kind, the movie is actually a sensitive and thoughtful probe into questions of faith and the difficulties faced by those who are called to teach others.
Matthew Brown plays Brandon Allen, or Elder Allen as he's called by his fellow missionaries. Soon after he's picked up at LAX and introduced to his surly partner Elder Dalton (Richard Dutcher, who also wrote, directed and produced the movie), Brandon is tramping the streets of Los Angeles, going door-to-door in working-class neighborhoods where, not surprisingly, he's met mostly with rejection, hostility and indifference.
At the end of his first exhausting day Brandon meets his roommates--a merry band of pranksters partial to playing practical jokes on the new guy. The other missionaries include Elder Banks (DeSean Terry), a young African American convert; Elder Sandoval (Luis Robledo), the ladies man of the group; and Elder Kinegar (Michael Buster), the group's doubting Thomas who studies anti-Mormon literature to better educate himself about the "enemy."
The living quarters in their low-rent Hollywood apartment are cramped and the schedule--which includes daily prayers, personal reflection and group study in addition to missionary work and chores--is exhausting.
The key relationship in the film is between Brandon, who's as green as a husk of corn, and Elder Dalton, who at age 29 is considered ancient by his young cohorts (they refer to him as "Pops"). Both men have serious personal issues: Brandon's stepfather, the one who converted him to Mormonism, has been convicted of an insidious crime; Elder Dalton is in the final stages of cancer but is determined to finish his mission.
The questions posed by the two men to each other and to themselves are universal questions of faith. What does God expect from us? What constitutes a moral life? Are miracles possible through the intercession of God? How is one to communicate a spiritual message in our largely secular world?
Although Dutcher and several of the others involved with the movie are devout Mormons, this is not a movie heavy on proselytizing. Save for a few touchy-feely moments, "God's Army" is a mostly nonsentimental look at a world of believers and issues of faith, both of which we rarely see in movies.
* MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements and some language. Times guidelines: Language is mild.
Matthew Brown: Brandon Allen
Richard Dutcher: Marcus Dalton
DeSean Terry: Elder Banks
Michael Buster: Elder Kinegar
Zion Films presents a Richard Dutcher film. Written, directed and produced by Richard Dutcher. Cinematographer Ken Glassing. Editor Michael Chaskes. Music Miriam Cutler. Wardrobe supervisor Gwen Dutcher. Art director Heath Houseman. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes.