Movie Review: A chaplain’s family struggles to keep the faith in “Indivisible”

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“Indivisible” is an earnest, heartfelt and often touching story (based on real people and events) about an Army chaplain on duty in Iraq and his wife at home struggling to maintain sanity and family after a rough tour in Iraq.

It’s lumbering — with episodic TV series pacing. The story slow-marches from its opening to its drawn out conclusion. But the acting is good, the production values solid and the depiction of stresses, in combat and at home, is a modestly realistic rendition of Army life.

No, there’s no real blood and the soldiers depicted here — from the chaplain to the women and men in arms, ranging from cynics to skeptics — are the first in history to never curse like, well, soldiers. It’s still a refreshingly upbeat faith-based drama, one anchored in the real world.

We meet Chaplain Darren Turner (Justin Bruening of “Grey’s Anatomy”) in Fort Stewart, Georgia, a doting dad who plays with his three kids and partners with wife Heather (Sarah Drew of “Mom’s Night Out”) in the marriage and in his ministry.

He used to be a college campus pastor, but he joined up and in 2007 he’s about to deploy as part of a “surge” in occupied Iraq. Back on base, Heather will raise their kids on her own and together with Army wife neighbor Tonya (Tia Mowry-Hardrict of “The Hot Chick”), is part of the Family Response Team. When the shooting starts, they’ll go comfort the families whose soldiers are killed or wounded.

Tonya’s married to a multi-tour veteran, and a drunk (Jason George of “Station 19” and “Grey’s Anatomy”). A guy who shows up at the chaplain’s cook-out and asks for “a cold one,” only to get a juice box, isn’t diving into this Jesus thing.

Nor is young rifleman Lance Bradley (former child actor Tanner Stine). He’s leaving behind his pregnant wife (former child actress Madeleine Carroll of “Flipped”), their little girl. And he doesn’t take that first IED that kills soldiers and an Iraqi girl well.

“You’re peddling a God who could take my life tomorrow!”

Air Force vet and “Black Lightning” co-star Skye P. Marshall is Sgt. Shonda Peterson, aide to the chaplain, crack shot with Atlanta SWAT and a National Guardswoman and single mom deployed in the surge as well. She’s so disconnected from motherhood she’s relieved to be overseas.

The chaplain and his faith are tested as he tries to have an impact in each of their lives, win converts (symbolized by accepting what the guys call “a good luck charm,” a religious medallion “so that you know you’re not alone out there”). He leads prayers before missions and on occasion goes on those missions. And when men don’t come back, he comforts the survivors.

Back home, Heather is coping with her oldest daughter’s asthma and the stress of “holding wailing, sobbing wives and children and felt their hearts being torn to shreds!” It’s not easy on either of them — distracted phone calls, him keeping the dangers of his work from her, her needing help with all that she has to juggle at home.

That early scene where the commanding officer shows Turner a stack of divorce filings from their unit in just the past few months isn’t the only foreshadowing.

There’s the trauma of loss, what it means if he tells Heather “I lost three more soldiers today” (more awful duty on her end as well). The soldiers record “farewell” videos to their families, and the Georgia base full of spouses grows more traumatized with each widow added to their ranks.

And then deployment ends, and yes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is added to the mix.

“Indivisible” is ambitious for a faith-based film, and “The Grace Card” director David G Evans handles the generic combat sequences with skill, if not a lot of flair.

One sequence has little Ellie Turner (Samara Lee) urgently summoning her brother and mommy with “Let’s pray for Daddy” on a day when the base in Iraq just happens to be under mortar attack. She’s clairvoyant! Another has her lost and asthmatic in a maze at the local fair while her father’s convoy weaves through a maze of narrow streets on its way to an ambush.

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The movies “Indivisible” compares to are “We Were Soldiers” and “The Best Years of Our Lives,” and both should have given Evans (he co-wrote the script) an idea for how to tighten this up and move his movie along.

Sure, everybody wants to try a “combat” film, but the most interesting and wrenching material comes back on base — Army wives following a chaplain and the Army team who inform spouses that their loved one has fallen in battle. That part of “We Were Soldiers” and the Woody Harrelson/Ben Foster drama “The Messenger” revealed the emotions of that situation as fraught and the stuff of very good drama.

Why make a middling combat film (half a film, actually) when you can make a powerful, faith-based picture about those left behind whose faith and marriages are tested just as severely, even though we don’t see the combat that leads to the issues?

It’s not bad, and there’s always the argument that “your reach should exceed your grasp.” But “Indivisible” lumbers along too slowly to sustain interest via the seen-it-before combat scenes before getting to the REAL story — what the experience does to those who survived it and those they left behind.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic material and war violence

Cast: Justin BrueningSarah DrewJason George, Skye P. Marshall. Madeleine Carroll

Credits:Directed by David G. Evans, script by David G. Evans, Cheryl McKay  . A Pure Flix release.

Running time: 1:59

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4 Responses to Movie Review: A chaplain’s family struggles to keep the faith in “Indivisible”

  1. Stan Goldenberg says:

    Above all — one has to keep in mind that this is very much a true story about real people and incidents. As for as what the “choir” thinks about this film, I was at an advanced screening and afterwards, the Pastor of a rather large church (who has dealt with many couples!) commented how real the marriage conflict (esp the scene in the kitchen) was portrayed. .I would agree that certain things in this film could have been done better, but as an army veteran and someone who has had marriage struggles, this film fires on a lot of cylinders. Not every film has to be Oscar worthy to be well worth seeing. This will encourage and touch a lot of lives and I hope many will take the time to catch this film in theaters.

      • Stan Goldenberg says:

        Why will it touch people? Not sure what you are asking. As far as helping/touching people it is because the film deals with a lot of true life struggles and trials and gives hope in the midst of those things.

      • “True story” in a feature film is a misnomer. There’s nothing here that could not be true, but the compromises screenwriters make make “inspired by a true story” the only way to look at any movie. The fact that some of it “really happened” doesn’t matter a whit as to its quality or ability to move, work as drama, etc.

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