The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Avenging Angel

I knew the name but knew little about the history. Meet Brigham Young, a leader of the Latter Day Saints movement, a Mormon who helped found Salt Lake City. I've always been aware of the name and dug into the history a little bit when he appeared on this season of AMC's Hell on Wheels. Well, when it rains, it pours. This little-known TV western popped up on Encore Westerns recently, 1995's The Avenging Angel.

Having traveled west as a young boy with Brigham Young (Charlton Heston) and his Mormon followers, Miles Utley grows up a devout follower of the leader of the Latter Day Saints. It is a movement though riles many, building enemies wherever it goes. As he grows up, Miles becomes a member of the Danites, a secret group of bodyguards who's sole job is to protect Young from threats both inside and out. Now a grown man, Miles (Tom Berenger) is the most skilled of these hidden assassins but now even he will be tested. He kills a would-be assassin during one of Young's speeches but something isn't quite right. It doesn't all add up. Instead, Miles finds that he's the target of something bigger and far more sinister than he thought. Who's the fall guy? Unless he can prove otherwise, it's Miles who may hang.

It's been the year of the TNT made-for-TV western here at Just Hit Play with Rough Riders, Crossfire Trail, The Buffalo Soldiers and now, The Avenging Angel. I had absolutely no recollection of this somewhat earlier entry until I stumbled across it late at night on Encore Westerns a few weeks ago. Like the other TV movies, it's made on a smaller scale but is never really limited by it. Good story, interesting cast, lots of potential. I liked the filming locations, giving the story a mountainous backdrop, and the story is pretty cool as it bends the truth quite a bit for the sake of some entertainment. 'Angel' is missing that special something, and I can't quite put my finger on it. It's okay but not much more.

If there's a positive, it is Tom Berenger, a very solid actor who never quite became a movie star. Recently I reviewed Rough Riders, Berenger stealing the movie in a showy part as future U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt. This is the polar opposite of that part. It's a quiet, intense, even sinister part. Without question, Berenger's Miles obeys orders, knowing he's doing what is required, no matter how difficult. And then it isn't so cut and dry. Has he been used for more sinister motives? I've always liked Berenger, and this is a solid, not so flashy tough guy part. That's not enough though so Miles is given two different love interests, Liza Rigby (Leslie Hope), the wife of an important Mormon leader, and Miranda Young (Fay Masterson), the daughter of Brigham Young. Three cheers for the unnecessary love story!

The rest of the cast is....well, interesting. Heston makes more of an extended cameo as the respected Mormon leader, Brigham Young. This is Hollywood legend Charlton Heston, glaring and growling through his part. Still, it is a Hollywood legend, providing some legitimacy just by being there. The same for James Coburn in a fun part as an aging Mormon trailsman, Porter Rockwell, who hasn't met his match, even training Miles for everything his job as a Danite will throw at him. Also look for Kevin Tighe, Jeffrey Jones, Tom Bower and Daniel Quinn as assorted Mormon leaders, some more important than others. It was also cool to see Andrew Prine in a cool one-scene appearance as a newspaper publisher who isn't afraid to ruffle some feathers through his stories. 

I guess the worst thing you can say about this flick is its predictability. Once we've met everyone involved -- in other words, the suspects -- I thought it was pretty easy to piece it all together. When the twists come revealing who's behind this big, bad, evil plot, it doesn't really come along as a twist. That's the movie in a nutshell. Not surprising and could have been better. I'll give Berenger credit though. As another reviewer pointed out, he's got a knack for finding little known stories of American history, like here and in 1999's generally forgotten One Man's Hero. That one's good and Rough Riders was really good. This one's not that memorable.

The Avenging Angel (1995): **/****

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