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‘The Fighting Preacher’ has issues but its themes, good acting save it

Movies

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“The Fighting Preacher” tells the story of the longest mission in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Any movie that tries to tackle a story spread over that extended a time period is going to suffer from narrative issues and “Preacher” is no exception. But thanks to some good acting and surprisingly universal themes, “Preacher” rolls with the punches and leaves you feeling moved and inspired.

“Preacher” focuses on Willard (David McConnell) and Rebecca Bean (Cassidy Hubert), who are called to serve a church mission in Palmyra, New York, charged with helping purchase some important church history sites. They face opposition from townspeople who still remember the tensions that gripped the town before they chased out the Latter-day Saints decades prior.

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Ostracized by Palmyra residents, Willard, a former boxing champ, struggles with the desire to punch his way through his problems while Rebecca deals with being isolated and friendless by taking solace in her family and spiritual experiences. Together, they work toward accomplishing their mission and learn important lessons about how to love and serve their neighbors.

“Preacher” has some major problems. Worst among them is the structure of the narrative, which jumps from scene to scene and from story thread to story thread without a lot of rhyme or reason. It makes “Preacher” feel like a series of loosely-connected scenes instead of a cohesive narrative.

This movie doesn’t stick the landing, either. The plot unfolds at a fairly deliberate pace as it chases down unnecessary plot strands. At least, it does so until the writers suddenly decide to move on to other things and the plot screeches to a halt. We do get a few more scenes, but they don’t really satisfy because we jump through years of story without seeing that story play out.

It would be better to lose some of the extra plot lines and add in some scenes that tie the end in better. As it is, the ending feels related to the story but unconnected, a bit like the empty tin cans that get tethered to the rear bumper of a newly-wedded couple’s car.

There are some other flaws, too. Bits of poorly-written dialogue. Too much camera movement that’s unmotivated and leaves you wondering “Why is the camera moving here?” An overly-intrusive musical score. These are all issues that detract from the overall experience.

But the movie lands two major punches that save it. First, the acting is strong. Hubert projects faith and strength while also ably playing vulnerability. McConnell plays Willard with a loose, wry humor and hunky charm that recalls “Firefly” alum Nathan Fillion. His performance gives the film a gentle sense of humor and a protagonist worth rooting for.

Secondly, “Preacher” delivers a number of themes that will resonate with viewers of all kinds of faiths and backgrounds. While the movie unabashedly celebrates the LDS faith, its main message is about the value of being a good neighbor, something anyone can relate to. Themes of perseverance, loving those who perceive you as an enemy and trusting in a higher power add meaning to the film almost anyone can relate to.

Add in some good laughs and beautiful cinematography that captures the beauty of the locations the film was shot on, and “The Fighting Preacher” overcomes its flaws and even uplifts and inspires. The bottom line: “The Fighting Preacher” moved me and if it can move a godless, heavy metal-loving heathen like myself, maybe it can move you, too.

3 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG

Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.

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