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Murray Journal

Dan's Review: The Cokeville Miracle

Jun 09, 2015 08:19PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Scene from The Cokeville Miracle - Excel Entertainment

The Cokeville Miracle (Excel)

Rated PG-13 for thematic material including violence and peril.

Starring Jaysen Wade, Nathan Stevens, Kimberly Mellen, Sarah Kent, Caitlyn E.J. Meyer.

Written and Directed by T.C. Christensen.



I’m always skeptical of movies that claim to “make you believe” in God or miracles. In short, I’m a firm believer that faith cannot be gained from a film, but that films and other artistic exploits can only re-affirm or strengthen that which you already possess (or lack). There’s a real national market for “faith-based” films these days (Heaven Is For Real, God’s Not Dead, Little Boy, etc.), but the local intermountain area has been thriving for years with the advent of “Mormon cinema,” mostly coming from local production companies like Excel and other small ventures that churn out movies like The Saratov Approach. The latest such film is The Cokeville Miracle, based on the true story of an insane couple that took an entire school hostage in Wyoming in 1986.

The film focuses on the town’s police chief Ron Hartley, a man who struggles with his faith in God due to the lack of humanity he sees in his crime-ridden line of work. The town’s former marshal is David Young (Nathan Stevens), who returns to Cokeville with a sinister plot. He also brings his devoted wife Doris (Kimberly Mellen) and daughter Penny (Caitlyn E. J. Meyer) with him, along with a bomb of his own making. The Youngs entered the school, corralled all the students, teachers, staff and a few bystanders into a single classroom, while demanding a $2 million ransom for each of the 137 kids. As the harrowing scene unfolds, the townspeople wait outside the school, fearing the worst. Through an unlikely series of events, the bomb explodes, while David Young kills himself and finishes Doris off after seeing her engulfed in flames. Although injured, none of the children or adults locked in the classroom die in the blast. Hartley conducts his own investigation into the incident, discovering that many children saw angels intervene just before and during the blast, leading him to question his faith even deeper. With the help of his wife Claudia (Sarah Kent), Hartley comes to the conclusion that a higher power intervened to save the children.

The Cokeville Miracle is a film that will reinforce your faith (should you have any) and it conveys a beautiful, spiritual significance. There are several moments (and actual accounts) that will draw tears from anyone who professes to believe in a higher power. Again, if you don’t believe in such things, the movie will be yet another sermon about fairy tales you don’t buy into.  

All faith issues aside, The Cokeville Miracle gets high marks for focusing on the concept of faith and miracles without the appearance of anything “Mormon” in it. The townspeople are portrayed as “religious,” but there are no references to anything LDS. The people attend church services and carry single bibles (not those vinyl quadruple scripture cases you see around LDS meeting houses). There is a familiar Mormon children’s song at the end of the film, but it’s one that could be sung in any Christian denomination. The stripping of all LDS references is perhaps deliberate on the part of director-writer T.C. Christensen, who seems to be reaching out to an audience beyond the pews of LDS chapels. It’s a movie made for people of all faiths, and that’s a good thing.

All positive points aside, there are a few flaws in The Cokeville Miracle that are hard to overlook. One is the embellishment of a few facts (“based on” a true story, remember?) surrounding the incident, most likely added for dramatic effect. The other is the failure procure a few vehicles from the mid 1980s, instead of the late-90s, early 2000 model cars, trucks and especially a minivan (used by the Youngs). I know T.C. had a small budget, but I’m also sure there are plenty of folks willing to donate a few clunkers for the cause. The mostly local Utah cast turns in an adequate ensemble performance, albeit melodramatic at times.

All quibbles aside, The Cokeville Miracle did reaffirm my beliefs in a higher power, even though I don’t know why God saves some children from peril while others are no so lucky. Perhaps such questions are meant to compel exploration of that higher power a little more.