Review: One Man’s Treasure (B-)

One Man's TreasureOne Man’s Treasure (IMDB, official site) is the newest film in the sub-genre of Mormon missionary movies…and it’s decent.

Set in Bristol, Pennsylvania, One Man’s Treasure portrays a day in the life of four elders and two sister missionaries, sent to reopen a small town for missionary work amid rumors and speculation about the mysterious (and possibly violent) circumstances that caused the area to be closed several years previous.

After moving into the previous elders’ apartment, the new elders discover an old journal with some cryptic clues discussing a ‘hidden treasure’. Does this have something to do with the reported violent attack on the elders that closed the area in the first place? The six of them take on the task of deciphering a series of clues and finding the treasure before it’s too late (…that is, before their P-Day ends and regular missionary work continues, not anything sinister).

The primary thrust of the movie is the missionaries’ search for the clues around town leading to the mysterious ‘treasure’. And the primary problem of the movie is that (minor spoilers here) it is pretty obvious from the beginning that the ‘great treasure’ mentioned in the old journal is not going to be a treasure of buried gold or jewels. That takes away a lot of the suspense, and makes the rumors that the previous elders were killed in relation to their ‘secret’ somewhat of a red herring.

The other major problem is that the trail of clues aren’t terribly clever (not comparable to even The Da Vinci Code), while at the same time also ridiculously obtuse in some cases, requiring great leaps of logic in order to figure them out anyway. (I’ll go into specific details below)

These may sound like fatal flaws since, you know, that’s the foundation for the entire film.  However, One Man’s Treasure *almost* works nonetheless, because it’s willing to spend time focusing on the characters and the missionary experience with a little bit of depth in between the hunting for clues. The glimpse into missionary work and missionary mindsets is still to a lesser extent than God’s Army or The Best Two Years — still the best two films about LDS missionaries — but achieves much more than last year’s shallow The Errand of Angels.

Some of the issues discussed within One Man’s Treasure that virtually all full-time missionaries will encounter at some time or another:

  • Obeying the ‘spirit’ versus the ‘letter’ of the law when it comes to mission rules.
  • The value (or lack thereof) in numbers and statistics — especially baptisms — when quantifying missionary “success”.
  • Why it seems like obedience to mission rules is not as directly proportional to successfully finding people to baptize as leaders claim.

One Man’s Treasure works best when the missionaries discuss such issues, as well as the personal trials they face when serving a mission in the first place.  Unfortunately, the movie ends up spending too much time on the superfluous ‘treasure hunt’ when the personal angles were serving the film better.

As it happens, only two of the elders are really developed — the third elder has “loves to eat” as his only characterization, and the fourth elder has, well, no characterization at all. (We don’t get to know the sisters, either…)   Still, it’s a reasonably successful attempt at discussing some of the difficult and gray areas involved with serving as a missionary.

One Man’s Treasure is made only for Church members — lots of church and missionary terms are thrown about without explanation, and non-member viewers will be lost. (This is ‘accurate’ in the sense that this is how actual missionaries talk, but this is not an entry point for non-LDS to learn about the Church or missionary work.   In fact, the entire point of the movie is basically irrelevant for non-members).

Still, One Man’s Treasure is well produced and never really dull, even when viewers recognize early on that the ‘treasure hunt’ isn’t going to end anywhere interesting. The dialogue has some depth to it without being as condescending or juvenile as previous LDS films, with a few thought-provoking concepts (especially for RM viewers) that can be discussed afterwards.  It’s a decent option for LDS families to rent.

Final Grade: B-

Further Analysis and Comments (may contain movie spoilers):

(1) The basic problem with the premise of the movie: the previous elder’s are apparently relying on a highly complicated and unlikely series of events to occur in order for the ‘treasure’ (the investigator family) to be discovered by future missionaries.

The following things needed to happen, in order:

  1. The mission deciding to keep the same apartment (and the contents undisturbed) after the previous elders leave and the area is closed. (Why would the mission continue to pay rent on an empty apartment?)
  2. The new elders being curious enough about the locked door to the basement to try to open it.
  3. The new elders finding the key to the locked door (not in an obvious location)
  4. The new elders finding the journal among the junk in the basement.
  5. The new elders reading the journal carefully and being curious about its contents (instead of, say, sending it to the mission home, or just leaving it in the basement)
  6. The new elders finding the true meaning of each clue without missing or getting stuck on one. (Problems with the clues themselves discussed below…)
  7. No one else in the meantime finding any of the clue locations before the missionaries do and removing them.
  8. Miguel’s family still living at the same location after an interim of several years.

My (obvious) advice for future missionaries:  don’t leave things to chance.  If you care about the investigator being recontacted, just write up a standard investigator record with the name and address and tape it to the wall by the map.  Much easier, and more reliable…

(2) There are problematic issues with the clues themselves as well:

  • One clue is placed in the movable podium stand in the local chapel…where, of course, everyone in the congregation would have been able to see it anytime a tall speaker stepped up to talk. (Just because there haven’t been missionaries in the area for a few years doesn’t mean there isn’t a ward or branch that still meets every week. That clue would have been discovered and removed easily in the interim).
  • One clue points to “the church” in a “dark passage” — that’s pretty vague for what turns out to be the area under the cultural hall stage where the chairs are stored. (Most chapels have several rows of chairs, so it would have been even harder to find than in the movie even if you knew where to look…)
  • One clue points to a laundromat, where the older missionaries are apparently depending on (a) it still being in business after a few years, (b) washing machines not being moved or replaced in the interim, and (c) the missionaries who don’t know the area deciding to do their laundry there, anyway.
  • Another clue points to a bakery…except there are over a dozen bakeries in the area, and there’s no indication which one it’s supposed to be. All six missionaries magically end up at the right bakery anyway, without explanation.
  • This same bakery clue is apparently entirely dependent on the employees of the bakery hand-delivering the next clue to the missionaries when they show up.  (Luckily, they didn’t (a) forget, (b) hire new people who don’t know what the ‘game’ is, or (c) felt there was no reason to assist the previous missionary’s game in the first place…)
  • Another clue points to Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, which the missionaries take to mean in the library. (But of course, copies of “Twelfth Night” could also be found in many local bookstores, and the library may have multiple copies anyway…)

Basically, the likelihood that later missionaries were going to be able to piece everything together without fail seems pretty unlikely in real life.

(3) I’ll reiterate my standard complaint that the actors playing the missionaries are at least 6-7 years too old for the part.  Granted, it’s not that easy to find actual aged actors for LDS movie missionaries, since many Latter-Day Saints who are that age are…on missions themselves.

(4) There’s no real reason for having the three companionships split up after each clue and figure things out themselves. (For plot reasons, obviously, the movie has to have them figure out each clue at the same speed and all wind up in the same location, anyway)   The plot is already contrived enough, having all three work independently at the same speed is just more contrivance.   It would have been easier just to have them work together and stay together as a group.