Rated PG for thematic elements and some disturbing images
Written and directed by T.C. Christensen
Starring Darin Southam, James Gaisford, Katherine Nelson, Mia Selway and more.
Grade: Three stars
Finding humor in a pioneer movie is like finding water in a desert.
Thankfully, “Ephraim’s Rescue” has a surprisingly healthy amount of the stuff. The latest from local filmmaker T.C. Christensen, “Rescue” tells the story of healer Ephraim Hanks with thoughtfulness, optimism and a wonderfully low-key sense of humor.
There are moments of death and heartbreak – this is a pioneer movie, after all – but you’re likely to walk out of the theater feeling better about the world as a whole.
Unlike “17 Miracles,” Christensen’s previous big-screen venture, “Rescue” narrows its focus to the life story of two men – Ephraim Hanks and Thomas Dobson. The movie traces the two men’s lives to the point where their stories converge, the well-known rescue of the Martin Handcart Company while the pioneers were on their way to Utah.
The majority of the focus is on Hanks, a man with a penchant for terrible jokes and a perception that he can never do anything right. Southam portrays Hanks as an uncomplicated, likable man who seems to be searching for his place in life. He seems to stumble into his healing talents almost by accident, though he approaches his miracles with a refreshing humility that leaves the movie feeling almost cheerful.
It also feels a little rambling, though that’s a side effect of reality. Like all of Christensen’s movies, “Ephraim’s Rescue” is based on actual pioneer journals and historical accounts. The less-than-focused nature of human life means that the movie meanders at times, though the director paints a fairly cohesive arc using Hanks’ growing emotional maturity.
At first, Dobson’s life seems like just one more side trip. Played with attractive petulance by James Gaisford, young Thomas seems to be the only pioneer character in the entirety of movie history that had absolutely no desire to be crossing the plains. Though the variety of it makes for a refreshing surprise, his story initially seems disconnected from Hanks’ part of the movie.
By the end, however, Christensen had set up a neat little parallel between the two men and their growing acceptance of their own responsibilities. Though the historical record doesn’t support it, you can even imagine Hanks taking the young man under his wing once they got to Utah.
The rest of the cast is equally fine, with Katherine Nelson balancing exasperation, love and patience as Thomas’s mother. Travis Eberhard, also in “17 Miracles,” offers a sweet turn as a fellow pioneer, while Mia Selway is charmingly tart as a young woman named Ester.
As with every pioneer movie made in Utah, “Ephraim’s Rescue” is strongly tied to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hanks performs several miracles, all of which are presented as simply as possible and backed by personal accounts found in pioneer history.
Whether or not you believe that such a thing is possible, seeing so many people be healed gives the movie a stronger sense of optimism and hope than most pioneer movies.
It may not have been the rescue Hanks meant to perform, but I for one am happy to take advantage of it.