A provocative premise is undone by limited exploration and basic incoherence.
A provocative premise is undone by limited exploration and basic incoherence in “Sons of Perdition,” an attempt to profile the plight of Utah’s “lost boys” — the offspring of the fundamentalist Mormon sect led by the now-imprisoned Warren Jeffs. These are children who, for reasons of temperament, culture or their status as marriageable young men, have found themselves exiled from their faith, families and only known world. Pic will get mileage out of its subject and title, but won’t inspire much devotion.
What the docu does reveal about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) is appalling: Under Jeffs, the number of wives one had reflected one’s material success; wives were taken from the less prosperous and reassigned to the wealthy. Mormon families were broken down and reassembled according to Jeffs’ whims, as he married off children to old men and was eventually convicted of abetting rape. It’s all quite horrible, and the idea that some might choose to flee isn’t all that surprising.
But in following its small band of rebellious adolescent ex-believers — principally Joe Broadbent, Sam Brower and Bruce Barlow — helmers Tyler Meason and Jennilyn Merten, apparently ex-Mormons themselves, leave a lot of other questions unanswered (including the chronology, which is more than vague). For instance, does Jeffs, like some old Mafia don, still retain his power in prison? Why is the polygamy practiced so flagrantly by the FLDS allowed to continue, seemingly under the noses of Utah authorities? Viewers can draw their own conclusions, but they don’t need a movie to do that.
Instead, “Sons of Perdition” is quite happy to chart the unsteady progress of the boys — and, eventually, Joe’s sisters, Suzanne and Sabrina, the latter of whom leaves four children behind when she skips out of FLDS-controlled Colorado City — as they try to adjust to life on the outside. There are certainly comic moments to be exploited: Joe has been taught so little about non-Mormon history that he confuses the names “Hitler” and “Clinton.” His sister Suzanne doesn’t know the capital of the United States.
But there are also moments of ethical ambiguity: Should the filmmakers be driving the “getaway car” when Joe and Sam try to get Joe’s mother to flee her husband’s house? Should they be so intimately involved with the action, and are they in fact propelling it? And as for Jeremy Johnson and Sharla Johnson, an apparently wealthy couple who run a safe house for FLDS teens — what’s their motivation, and where does their money come from?
The drama, such as it is, is generated by Joe’s increasingly frantic attempts to get his 14-year-old sister Hillary (there are 22 Broadbent siblings total) away from his father, before she can be married off. Otherwise, the kids themselves — thanks to the insular atmosphere in which they’ve grown up — aren’t that interesting. A wider perspective on the issues around them would have made for a far more useful and engaging film, but “Sons of Perdition” tries to pass off sloppy execution as some kind of edgy aesthetic, and instead winds up just being boring.