Review Title: "the Fighting Preacher Delivers a Knockout and Tugs at The Heart."
Review Ranking: 9 Stars out Of 10 (using Im Db Ranking Scale)
REVIEW CONTENT: I attended the premiere of THE FIGHTING PREACHER, a motion picture by Utah Writer/Director T.C. Christensen, on July 17, 2019, at the Jordan Commons Megaplex Theater Complex in Sandy, Utah. Attendees comprised of Writer/Director/Cinematographer, cast, crew, film editor, producers, Utah Film Commission representatives, production/industry associates, family and relatives, and other guests. In preparation, I did a bit of research and studied the promotional information regarding the subject of the film. I was interested and eager to see how the historical story of Willard Bean (a.k.a. "The Fighting Preacher") and his wife, Rebecca Bean, would be told.
The film takes the audience on a journey back to a time in our nation when religious prejudice was a common finding, especially for a faith that was uncommon to the majority of any community. And when such faith also had the accompaniment of historical discord, acceptance would be a monumental feat. Willard and Rebecca Bean found this to be the case when attempting to set up residence in Palmyra, New York in 1915. As requested by the leaders of the Latter-Day Saint Church, the Beans accepted a unique missionary assignment. They were called to become residents and caretakers of the property known as the Joseph Smith family farm located in Palmyra, New York, and to preach the Gospel. They were also called to establish a community relationship in Palmyra, and help make arrangements for the purchase of Church-related historic properties in the area. Any of those areas of assignment would have been a challenge, but the combination was a daunting feat, indeed.
The Beans were unwelcomed. They were emotionally tormented and insulted to the extreme. Numerous attempts were made by the community members to defame the Church and make life misery of intolerable degree for the Bean family. When Willard and Rebecca first arrive, they are newlyweds of less than one year, so you can imagine what an obstacle this level of resistance presented for the young couple. The fact that they chose to remain under such circumstances showed their character, grit, and commitment to the calling that their Church leaders had extended to them. The Beans were the first members of their Church to reside in Palmyra in eighty-four years. A welcome was long overdue, but the Beans surely didn't receive one. As one watches the film, the audience can't help but feel empathy for the Beans and their unrelenting negative reception. There's an occasional affirmative acceptance, but only rarely, and when it occurs, the Beans feel as though it's a blessing from heaven. The audience can't help but feel the same way whenever the Beans achieve any victory during their earliest years in Palmyra. It was particularly enjoyable to see this couple grow in their love and devotion to one another as well.
The Beans attempted through various means to make friends and contribute to the community, but a deaf ear, unkind actions, and vicious remarks were often the response received. Finally, Willard, with the encouragement of his wife, takes matters into his own hands to defend himself, his family, and the purpose of their residential mission. The community soon learns with whom they had been dealing. You see, at one time, Willard Bean held the title of the middle-weight champion of the United States. Willard had to call upon those boxing skills at times to defend himself and his family because of the enraged sentiments of the abundant number of Mormon haters. As a result of resorting to using those boxing skills while in the capacity of being a church representative, he was often called "The Fighting Parson," to which the film adapted the title to be "The Fighting Preacher." The boxing scenes in the movie, both the impromptu occasions as well as those planned for public exhibition, show Willard Bean's boxing to be an asset to meeting the challenges of his church assignment. The portrayal of gratuitous graphic violence is absent. However, the film successfully shows Bean's sportsmanship, athletic ability, and the defeat of his challengers, albeit supported by the historical record.
While some residents responded through their defeat in the boxing arena with Willard, others responded with continued contention. The Beans then implemented a more robust effort on their part to provide community and individual service and compassion without any expectation of reciprocation. The initiative was tedious and sustained over time, resulting in gradual acceptance and a feeling of belonging. Finally, after years of continued efforts, the Beans were looked upon as respected community members, and they took an active role in many service organizations in their community. Their children, likewise, received the benefit of enduring their trials. What began as a Church assignment of five years or more, ended up as twenty-five years. Their journey began as being rejected and tormented, to becoming endeared and honored by the community.
The film's cinematography is exceptional. Attention is given to close detail of subject and expression, as well as an expansive panoramic view. Such cinematography has become a trademark of T.C. Christensen and audiences look forward to him delivering it in each of his films. I commend the casting director; each of the actors provides solid performance with skill, consistency, and sensitivity. I didn't detect any weakness in the acting whatsoever. Even the casting of the extras presented a colorful collection of characters of unique expression and appearance, adding to the entertaining visual quality of the film. The technical components of the film are aesthetically represented and pleasing. The musical score is complementary to the period and captivates the audience. The viewing audience or seasoned critic would find it difficult, if not impossible, to point to any legitimate flaw in these aspects of the film.
Similar to other historically influenced films written/directed by T.C. Christensen ("The Cokeville Miracle," " Ephraim's Rescue," " 17 Miracles") attention to biographical detail and historical accuracy is abundant throughout the film, excepting minor variance of artistic license. Filmed on location in New York and Utah, the cinematography takes good advantage of the topography of the land. Clothing and architecture of the period are well represented. Even the interior of the old schoolhouse where a good number of scenes take place with the Bean's young daughter makes the audience feel transported in time. After the film, alongside the credits, numerous historical photos and informational facts about Willard and Rebecca Bean and their family are illustrated. My eyes were teary before then, but with the culmination of the archival and photographic feast, my cheeks could not remain dry.
THE FIGHTING PREACHER is a noteworthy filmmaking accomplishment. T.C. Christensen has written and directed an exceptional film worthy of numerous awards. He's a well-researched visionary filmmaker, one of the most talented filmmakers of this generation, and he consistently delivers quality films to appreciative audiences. He shows the audience the truth and invites them to receive a valuable message. He uses the highest caliber of skill in storytelling through his screenwriting, directing, and cinematography. This triple combination of expertise is unique among industry professionals. When other filmmakers choose to work with fiction, he tells a true story of historical significance, worthy of the audience's time, and one that can inspire the human spirit. The running time of the film is not adequate to tell the entire story of Willard and Rebecca Bean, but the portions depicted in this film portray the significant lives that this couple lived. In his final remarks to the audience attending the premiere, T.C. Christensen said, "My hope is that this film will go out and inspire others to be kinder to one another." That takes courage and faith. That's what Willard and Rebecca Bean had. That's what T.C. Christensen has.