Andrew Garfield is hardly a stranger to TV. Before he was Spider-Man, he was cropping up in the likes of Doctor Who and Red Riding. Under The Banner Of Heaven, though, leans much more towards the latter. A true-crime tale adapted by Milk writer Dustin Lance Black from Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction tome, the miniseries layers on some fictional elements to the story (and has reignited criticism from members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for its portrayal of Mormons as violent and insular).
Taken purely as a piece of television itself, though, Heaven is a gripping, thoughtful, emotional trip that finds itself concerned with more than simply finding out whodunnit. Pyre’s (Garfield) journey into the dark heart of his own religion, and into territory where its core beliefs are twisted by those who have their own interpretation, is one that explores terror born from fanaticism. Brenda (Daisy Edgar-Jones, who perhaps has less to do than in the likes of Normal People but still makes an impact) marries into a strict Mormon family led by the forthright Ammon Lafferty (Christopher Heyerdahl). Husband Allen (Billy Howle) is less of a believer than the likes of brothers Dan (Wyatt Russell) and Ron (Sam Worthington), but she’s soon drawn into the drama as the family members start to dive into anti-government propaganda and splinter versions of their religion.
Shines a light on truth and trust – themes that resonate in a time where both seem to be in short supply.
Garfield is the anchor here, his sweet-natured yet steel-spined detective Pyre going on a nightmare journey through blood and believers, reckoning with his own Mormon core. Able to dig into the character across seven episodes, he shines — but he’s not the only reason to watch. Gil Birmingham is right there with him as his dogged, non-Mormon, Native American partner who offers outsider commentary and, as the plot thickens, counsel about conviction and reality. His Paiute tribe has a painful history with the Mormons, something that comes into play down the line.
It’s also a showcase for Russell and Worthington on the other side of the law. As their family devolves from the Mormon equivalent of faith-based superstars to cabin-dwelling truthers, they’re offered the chance to do more with their characters than for most of the movies they’ve appeared in. Worthington in particular shows sides and shades he’s rarely brought out before. There are, in fact, no weak links to be found among the ensemble, while Black and his creative team (The West Wing’s Thomas Schlamme is among the directors) conjure a captivating vision that also probes the darker history of Mormonism.