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Film / God's Army

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"The field is white, ready to harvest...even in Los Angeles."
Elder Dalton AKA Pops

God's Army is a 2000 independent religious drama film written, directed, and starring Richard Dutcher. The film centers on Brandon Allen (Matthew A. Brown), a new LDS missionary serving in Los Angeles. He is assigned with Marcus Dalton (Dutcher), nicknamed "Pops" due to being the oldest missionary in the mission field, who is slowly succumbing to brain cancer. Other missionaries joining them include the black recruit Elder Banks, the spiritually struggling Elder Kinegar, and the emotionally devastated Sister Fronk.

Throughout his mission, Allen finds the rules overwhelming and difficult, even threatening to leave on the first night. But as he experiences the struggles and sacrifices the other missionaries have to face, he'll discover that the most crucial person he needs to convert is himself.

While Mormons had been portrayed in countless movies beforehand, Dutcher found such portraits stereotypical and wanted to give audiences a more raw and honest look at what being a missionary was really about. Shot on a low-budget of $300,000, God's Army was a surprise box office hit, grossing over $2.6 million at the box office and earning the same amount in VHS/DVD sales. The film's success launched the modern Mormon Cinema genre, though many of films made in its wake were not exactly what Dutcher was expecting.

A sequel to this film, titled States of Grace, was released in 2005.

God's Army contains examples of:

  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: At Dalton's funeral, President Beecroft lays out some Dalton's faults and weaknesses, saying, "He lacked patience, he lost his temper...he even flirted with my wife!"
  • Artistic License – Religion: In real life, missionaries with poor health are required to be sent home with no exceptions. Justified in that President Beecroft tried to send Elder Dalton home, but he refused.
  • Break the Believer: Kinegar dabbles with anti-Mormon literature so much that he gets to a point where he finds missionary work completely useless. Before he leaves, Dalton berates his decision, saying he had a strong testimony when he first came to the mission field. Kinegar not only renounces his testimony but also Dalton's efforts.
  • Camera Fiend: Elder Mangum uses his camera to take embarrassing pictures of other missionaries, like when Elder Allen enters the missionary apartment thinking it's another house, and when he takes pictures of Elder Banks and later Elder Downey sitting on the toilet.
  • Can't Tie His Tie: There's a sequence where Elder Allen has a hard time getting his tie to the right length. Elder Dalton finally gives him a pre-tied tie.
  • Coming of Age Story: Elder Allen grows from an insecure young adult to a mature missionary.
  • Crisis of Faith:
    • Elder Kinegar becomes obsessed with reading anti-Mormon literature and leaves the mission.
    • Elder Banks has a hard time dealing with the church's ban on Blacks holding the priesthood which was lifted in 1978.
    • Elder Allen received the priesthood from his father, who's in prison for child molestation. Allen has a hard time separating his father from the priesthood he's been given.
  • Deadly Nosebleed: Elder Dalton gets one in a Deleted Scene to show he's dying.
  • Determinator: Elder Dalton just will not give up in the face of death.
  • Fan Service With A Smile: Downplayed with a waitress at a restaurant. She isn't skimpily dressed, but all the missionaries find her attractive, especially Elder Sandoval.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Dalton throws away the medication he was taking prior to giving investigator Benny a blessing so he could walk again. Miraculously, it works but Dalton dies later that night.
  • Horrible Hollywood: Downplayed. Los Angeles is depicted as a scuzzy place, though there are some good characters. The dirtiest thing is probably two prostitutes who try toying with the missionaries.
  • Knocking on Heathens' Door: Elder Allen and Elder Dalton go knock some doors, but nobody's really interested.
  • The Missionary: All of the main characters are LDS missionaries.
  • Not So Above It All: Elder Banks gets really angry when he's on the receiving end of Elder Mangum's practical joke and demands that it stops. During the breakfast prayer, as payback he pours salt into Elder Mangum's cereal.
  • Official Couple: Brandon Allen and Jeanine Fronk. Their relationship is teased throughout the movie, but at the end we learn they got married.
  • The Patient Has Left the Building: Elder Dalton sneaks away from the hospital to attend a baptism.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Given to Elder Allen when he first enters the missionary apartment.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • Allen realizes on the first night that missionary work is incredibly hard and leaves for the bus station. Dalton and Banks track him down and convince him to return.
    • Later on, Elder Kinegar successfully leaves the mission after giving in to the rhetoric of the anti-Mormon books he was reading.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Allen gets picked up from the airport, the missionaries in the car ask where he's from. Allen says "Kanas" and the missionaries respond with "Well elder, you're not in Kanas anymore!". Brother Rose later gives the same remark.
    • Sister Fronk and Elder Allen ask each other what they think the three greatest books ever written were. Fronk responds The Grapes of Wrath, War and Peace or Anna Karenina, and Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev. In the DVD commentary, Dutcher says these are some of his favorite books.
    • Elder Sandoval standing up and preaching repentance to Hollywood is a reference to Samuel the Lamanite in The Book of Mormon preaching to the people of Zarahemla. The other missionaries catch the reference and start pelting him with stuff.
  • Spoiler Cover: Averted. The filmmakers were considering putting Elder Banks' on the cover, but decided against it so that people wouldn't know he's a missionary when he's first seen.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Benny Yao stops using his crutches after the elders give him a blessing.
  • Toilet Humor:
    • After Allen and Dalton find one house empty, the homeowner arrives and rushes inside to use the bathroom.
    • There's the (infamous) scene where some of the missionaries take pictures of Banks using the toilet.
  • Token Minority: Elder Banks is the only black missionary, and Elder Sandoval is Latino.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer spoils that Elder Kinegar leaves the mission because of his Crisis of Faith.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Richard Dutcher says a lot of the events in the film were inspired by his own experiences while serving as a missionary in Mexico.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The last we see of the two prostitutes is the two sister missionaries appear at their apartment to teach them.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: At the end of the film, Allen in voice-over briefly talks about what happened to the other missionaries after the mission.