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The Hollywood Insider Under the Banner of Heaven Series Review

Photo: ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ 

FX’s true-crime drama ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ starring Andrew Garfield has come to an eventful close as everything in the story is pieced together. One thing this psychological drama series did is have you at the edge of your seat, questioning the characters and their motivations. The premise of the show seems simple until you watch it because one thing that the series tried to do is explain The Book of Mormon while the plot is happening at the same time. At times, if I didn’t know anything about The Book of Mormon going in, I’ll have to rewind and do my own research to understand what’s happening in the show. However, the show makes up for it with its amazing actors, there isn’t a weak actor in this series and it has rewatch value just to see their performances again. 

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Exploration of the LDS Church and Fundamentalist Mormonism 

When I first heard about the series, I was excited because of the premise “The faith of police detective Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) is shaken when investigating the murder of a Mormon mother and her baby daughter that seems to involve the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church). As someone who is into true crime, I knew this series was going to be for me and I wasn’t disappointed because the series delivers. The Mormon religion is interesting and I’ve done prior research about the religion before watching which includes watching different documentaries and reading about it in my free time. The series had enough layers to make it an interesting story but I know they couldn’t include everything because it’s based on the nonfiction book of the same name. 

The book and the series both examine the ideologies of both the Latter-Day Saint Church and the FLDS so it’s important when watching the series to pay attention to characters’ actions and motivations. I like how the series gets you so invested in the characters with the limited amount of time it has, you can tell how conflicted Garfield’s character gets when trying to solve the case and there are moments where his identity conflicts with the case. There are not many series where someone’s faith is a part of what solves the case because there are moments in the show if Garfield’s character was a regular detective, he would’ve gotten himself and the force killed. The exploration of the religion doesn’t get you to sympathize with the characters but makes you understand their actions. 

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The series follows the Lafferty family and they’re involved with the LDS church, you can tell in the beginning that something is off with them while they’re trying to portray a picture-perfect family. ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ really puts you in the shoes of someone who is involved with the church because you learn how a Mormon household works and keeping up a good image within the community is very important. You can understand why the Lafferty brothers all behave in different ways like Allen Lafferty (Billy Howle) just wants to keep his family safe and happy while Dan Lafferty (Wyatt Russell) is put under immense pressure from his father to be the perfect Mormon man but ends up going down a dark path in the name of God. The series opens your eyes to what religion can do to a person and what people do in order to be worthy to go to heaven. 

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‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ – So Many Characters so Little Time 

This series throws a lot of characters at you from the beginning because of how big the Lafferty family is as well as getting to know Garfield’s family and his partner on the case, Detective Bill Taba (Gil Birmingham). After watching the series, I understand why they decided to not make this into a film, it’s because there are too many characters. The one thing book-adaptations struggle with is how to translate a descriptive story into a condensed one without leaving out the important details. The story moves so fast that I didn’t have time to remember the Lafferty family names and often confused them till the last episode. I feel like there was nothing they could do to solve this problem because the brothers were important to the story and taking them out would add more confusion to the plot. 

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Garfield’s character Jeb Pyre, is a great character and Garfield did an amazing job at portraying him but in the end, I wish we would’ve gotten a more solid character arc ending of where he stands with the church. We see his character struggle with his religion and we see that it ends up with him being judged by the community and his wife but we don’t get a conclusive ending with his character. However, I don’t know what a conclusive ending to his character would look like because we can’t solve that within that episode, there would have to be another episode to get inside the mind of Jeb Pyre.

One character that was written perfectly was Brenda Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones), her character arc is heartbreaking because we already know how it ends, we’re just waiting for the reveal to happen. Edgar-Jones’ character is tragic because her fate is sealed from the first episode and there’s nothing we can do to change it. Edgar-Jones did a phenomenal job at portraying Brenda because she made the final episode more impactful because of her performance. The casting for this series was extraordinary and my favorite performance is from Wyatt Russell I think from here on out that he should be type-casted to play villains because his performance is scary and every time he was on screen, I didn’t want to look away because he character was so evil. 

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Final Thoughts

In the end, I think this series is solid and would recommend it to people who are interested in true-crime and religion fundamentalists. The only warning I’ll give is to do research about the LDS church before watching because the series does have flashbacks explaining the religion. However, this series is a good watch, with great actors that you don’t want to miss! I give this series 7.7 Book of Mormons out of ten and I will rewatch it again soon because I enjoyed the ride this series took me on. 

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sam Worthington, Denise Gough, Wyatt Russell, Billy Howle, Gil Birmingham, Adelaide Clemens, Rory Culkin, Seth Numrich, Chloe Pirrie, Sandra Seacat, Christopher Heyerdahl 

Director: David Mackenzie, Courtney Hunt, Dustin Lance Black, Isabel Sandoval | Writers: Dustin Lance Black, Emer Gillespie, Gina Welch | Producers: Leslie Cowan, Brian Dennis

By Ayana Hamilton

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.

I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV. media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.

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