With the exception of the “Saints and Soldiers” franchise and a couple of decent efforts from T.C. Christensen, Mormon cinema has seen a whole lot of famine and very little feast.
It’s gotten to the point that if someone says they’ve made a new Mormon movie, most of us in the critics’ circle would prefer to be tied up over an ant hill. After a while, you start to feel bad for crushing a filmmaker’s dreams.
So it’s with relief and a little bit of shock that I just finished watching one of the best to come out of this unique genre.
“The Saratov Approach” is not just a good Mormon movie, it’s a great and powerfully moving experience that resonates even beyond religious boundaries.
Based on a true story, the film is about two missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Tuttle (Corbin Allred) and Elder Propst (Maclain Nelson), who are kidnapped in Saratov, Russia, in late March of 1998.
They’re being held by two armed men demanding $300,000 for their safe release.
Sergei (Alex Veadov) is the mastermind, and Nikolai (Nikita Bogolyubov) is responsible for the day-to-day guarding and caring for the two young men. The missionaries are chained and handcuffed in a dark, dingy room, allowed to walk around only during bathroom breaks.
They know the church cannot pay the ransom; otherwise, every other crackpot in the world will start nabbing missionaries.
Tuttle and Probst know they will have to be resourceful if they want to see their families again. They devise a plan to ambush Nikolai during one of his routine checks and try to overpower him. They work out every detail, determined to free themselves or die trying.
However, as the days go on, and as they get to know one another, they come up with a very different plan.
Up to this point, I’m thinking of calling the film “The Best Two Years of Law & Order,” as it has elements of missionary work in a foreign land, mixed with an intense crime drama.
But suddenly, the film goes to another, unexpected level, that, if true, demonstrates the emerging faith of these two young men to such a degree that it’s difficult to imagine.
That pushes “The Saratov Approach” to a place that will universally touch your heart, no matter what you believe. And therein lies the strength of this well-told and well-acted story, which deserves to be seen by one and all.
Don’t be afraid — it’s really THAT good.
- THE FILM: ‘The Saratov Approach’
- STARRING: Corbin Allred, Maclain Nelson, Nikita Bogolyubov, Alex Veadov and Bruce Newbold
- BEHIND THE SCENES: Written and directed by Garrett Batty (‘Scout Camp’); filmed in Salt Lake City and Kiev, Ukraine
- PLAYING: Megaplex 13, Megaplex 14, Cinemark Farmington, Layton Tinseltown, Newgate Tinseltown and Walker 8. Runs 107 minutes.
- MPAA RATING: PG-13 for some violence