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Religion and murder: funky flashbacks aside, Hulu’s ‘Under the Banner’ shows promise

Hulu Miniseries Under the banner of heaven could end up being much better overall than its first two episodes – and that’s all I could see before review time. These episodes are pretty decent except for a weird storytelling flashback tactic that thwarts the momentum.

Under the banner of heaven is a six-parter based on the nonfiction book by Jon Krakauer, which documented the Utah murders with an unsettling religious twist. Andrew Garfield—fresh off a stellar year in which he was nominated for an Oscar for Tick, tick… Boom! and stole scenes with his returning Spider-Man – plays Det. Jeb Pyre, a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who investigates the deaths of a local woman, Brenda (Daisy Edgar-Jones), and her infant son.

Brenda was the new wife of Allen Lafferty (Billy Howle), one of many Lafferty brothers from a prestigious and very religious family in Utah. Allen becomes an instant suspect, and much of the first two episodes involve him talking to Jeb during his captivity.

When Allen talks about his family life and his wife, the flashbacks are actually quite funny in that we see Brenda alive, with Edgar-Jones turning out to be a fantastic and relatively new talent. (She was great in horror movies Costs.) There’s also a very strong supporting cast including Sam Worthington, Wyatt Russell and Rory Culkin; the film is at its best when it tells the backstory of their characters.

As for that aforementioned goofy flashback tactic: when Allen starts talking or ranting about religion, things actually go back to the days of Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, showing events in the early days of the Mormon religion. This stuff is out of left field; it doesn’t look good (especially amateur costumes); and it looks like some of the propaganda films i used to watch in my baptist and very protestant sunday school sessions, before i started refusing to go to church as a teenager . (This whole church scene made me really sleepy; I found I preferred chasing after girls and hanging out at McDonalds…and we didn’t drink milkshakes at McDonald’s, let me tell you.)

Garfield, Edgar-Jones and the rest of the cast will keep me coming back to see how it all pans out. Fortunately, I never read the book; I bought it, but it just sat on my shelf, so I don’t know how things turned out, and hope to find out by looking.

So, everyone: Shut up if you know the end!

Under the banner of heaven is now streaming on Hulu, with new episodes released Thursday through May 26.