I had high hopes but reserved expectations while driving to see Christian Vuissa’s latest film One Good Man. Though LDS cinema seems to have cooled and matured somewhat in recent years, it is nonetheless a movement that has generally been hit-and-miss at best. One Good Man comes as a welcome transition to deeper, more complex filmmaking. The film is far from perfect—it includes its fair share of cultural clichés and clunky sentimentality—but it also marks an insightful and timely turn toward a more intimate, nuanced exploration of LDS themes and culture.
One Good Man portrays a few days in the life of Aaron Young, an LDS father of six whose life appears to be reaching critical mass. As the film opens, Aaron has one son serving an LDS mission, a daughter preparing to get married, and a rebellious teenager. Compounding his stressful home life, Aaron’s boss demands that he lay off one fifth of the company’s workforce to deal with the hard economic times. Just when Aaron thinks he cannot get any busier, he is called to be the bishop of his ward.
While the opening scenes expose one conflict after another, the remainder of the film stands back and allows these challenges to play out at their own pace. The result is illuminative. When Aaron comforts an elderly ward member, for example, or assuages the fears of his daughter’s non-Mormon in-laws, he is forced to adapt to a difficult situation. The decisions he makes are rendered as profound cinematic explorations of both the rewards and the challenges of being a Latter-day Saint. While some conflicts get resolved on-screen, others do not: Aaron works as a member missionary but without substantial results to speak of; he succeeds at work but is still dissatisfied with his job; his daughter gets married in the temple but never fully makes peace with her in-laws. By film’s end the most substantial resolution is simply Aaron’s added maturity for having had certain experiences. In this sense the film is more a “slice of life” story rather than one that follows typical story form; although there is a beginning and an end to what the audience sees, there is no message about problems in life being solved quickly or easily.