Tonight I had the opportunity to attend an advance showing of the new movie “Gordon B. Hinckley; A Giant Among Men” which will release to theaters and video on November 25th. Produced and distributed through Living Scriptures, this new movie was filmed and directed by renown cinematographer T.C. Christensen who also filmed The Work and the Glory, Praise To The Man, The Testaments, and Lewis & Clark (IMAX) among many others. Here is my review.
This movie does not attempt to retell the entire story of Gordon B. Hinckley’s 97 years of life. Rather, it focuses upon those persons and events which had a profound impact upon the boy, and later the man, who would become the 15th President and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The film highlights key events and human moments in his life.
Director Christensen carefully and tenderly dramatizes stories of Hinckley’s youth and missionary experience. Many of these scenes are beloved stories which President Hinckley often told from the pulpit. And from time to time, audio clips of President Hinckley’s voice are allowed to narrate his own story as it is re-enacted on screen. This adds great poignancy and realism. The film also includes a few nice archive video clips of Hinckley’s later years.
One of the greatest strengths of this film is the cast. Not only are the scenes portrayed believably, but all of the seven actors chosen to depict Hinckley (spanning from age 5 to 95) stunningly look the part! It certainly helped that each of the “young Gordon’s” were conveniently cast from the same talented family (most of whom were attending the movie preview to the delight of the audience). A few of the young stars graciously posed for MoSop, after the show.
Actress Lauren Brady gives a masterful performance of Hinckley’s mother, Ada Bitner Hinckley, who was Gordon’s first, and arguably most powerful, teacher and guide. Depicted are the hours Ada spent reading to Gordon, and the many teaching moments she employed which gave her young son Gordon a solid foundation for the rest of his life. The movie highlights several instances of her loving but firm discipline, which also includes many humorous moments. Ada’s pleading prayer of faith offered over her feverish children during a flu epidemic is an especially moving scene, which underscores the power of motherhood.
Particularly charming is Tamilisa Wood, portraying Gordon’s future wife Marjorie Pay Hinckley. She perfectly captures Marjorie’s intelligence, wry sense of humor, and gentle strength which encouraged and supported Gordon’s success. Wood’s smile and sparkling eyes beautifully light up the screen each time she appears, and it is regrettable that we don’t get to see more of her.
Levi Larsen admirably portrays the adult Gordon, taking us through his high school, missionary service, and early years working for the church and railroad. Larsen has an engaging stage presence and was very believable in look and mannerism as Hinckley. He handles the role with great dignity. Portraying famous persons is always a daunting task for any actor, and yet Larsen balanced both Gordon’s serious side and humorous nature with grace and ease. He allows us to see the growth and maturing of Hinckley over the years. Larsen and Wood have a delightful chemistry on-screen, which adds a welcome depth and charm to the important relationship between Gordon and Marjorie.
Christensen effectively employs the family library as the focal point of the film, returning the viewer at the beginning and end of each ‘chapter’ being portrayed in Hinckley’slife, while projecting famous quotes that foreshadow the upcoming events, or epitomize the lessons learned from the past. This gives an epic documentary feel, and reminds the audience that we are watching a retelling of a true story. Those familiar with the stories which President Hinckley liked to share, will be especially delighted to see so many recreated on the big screen.
Christensen’s cinematography creates beautiful lasting images. My ‘stage eyes’ appreciated the extra care which was taken with costuming, hair, makeup, and the intricate set dressing in order to realistically transport viewers back in time. Of particular enjoyment was when the camera focuses tightly on the workings of an old manual typewriter as Hinckley composes one of his many articles. Scenes of Gordon and his little brother Sherman working and playing on the family farm are absolute treasures, and beautifully captured. Precisely because of the high level of authenticity Christensen achieves with this work, there is a much greater risk that anything slightly off will be jarring. There was only one brief scene which I personally thought fell short. When Gordon’s bishop calls him into his office for ‘a chat’ (to serve a mission) the words and mannerisms used by the bishop’s character are much too casual and seem out of context with the carefully constructed time period. This is a minor hiccup as the film flows majestically onward.
The music chosen is tasteful, and adds beauty and depth to the scenes. In tribute to Hinckley’s many years serving as priesthood adviser to The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, there is a special musical highlight in the film. Movie-goers will also want to remain in their seats during the final credits, which includes a touching epilogue.
I am delighted with this new film, not only with the quality artistically and inspirationally, but also with the perspective it offers. It helps us realize that the great man we knew as a global leader and prophet, was also once a little boy who loved to play in the mud, tease his younger brother, and needed to learn and overcome weaknesses. He was a young man who experienced fear and frustration when embarking overseas into missionary service. And later, he was a man desperately in love with the girl of his dreams, who felt awkward and inadequate. He experienced times of great joy and crushing sorrow, which all viewers can personally relate to.
“A Giant Among Men” reminds us that God creates each of us as human beings with weaknesses, yet capable of accomplishing great things. This film does a masterful job showing how a boy named Gordon Bitner Hinckley was prepared from his youth to become a special witness of Jesus Christ, and prophet of God. I came away refreshed and inspired to reach a little higher, and to try a little harder each day to serve others, as Hinckley did.
Each one of us will face choices in our life which will either send us down the right road, or derail our progress. The movie Gordon B. Hinckley: A Giant Among Men gives a beautiful illustration of how one man successfully stayed on the right track drawing nearer to God, and then humbly invited all to follow. You don’t want to miss it!
UPDATE 11/10/2008: A Family Home Evening Lesson and short video which includes scenes from this movie can be found at LDSFamilyFun.com. The video is extremely small. If anyone can locate a larger version, please let me know and I will post here.
UPDATE 11/18/2008: The full movie website is up and running! Click here to watch the trailer, and get more details about the film. Under REVIEWS, you will also see MoSop quoted and a link back to this page (Thanks Living Scriptures!).
Just for the record, I gave full permission for L.S., Inc. to use my review as an unpaid endorsement. Let’s support quality family entertainment. Spread the word!