In July 2013, the Southern Indiana duo of T.L. Bridger and Daniel Cleghorn found themselves wanting to do something new for their church's annual fair ministry, a desire that led them to to enlist the help of father-and-son friends Adam and Jacob Dufour in the making of The Redemption of Benjamin Black, a 60-minute film that has since been featured in festivals around the country. While the quartet had their share of challenges in the making of the film, they became hooked on the journey of inspirational filmmaking and followed up this success with Bridges/Cleghorn creating Heritage Production Films and the Dufours creating Amor Domini Productions. They followed up The Redemption of Benjamin Black with the short film Forward Until Found, a motivational film that garnered even greater successes and multiple awards. Soon after, they created their first feature film, Andy's Rainbow, that started SNL alum and well known Christian Victoria Jackson.
To Be a Soldier is their most ambitious project film project yet, featuring Jacob Dufour as British insurance agent Gregory Kirk, whose sister goes missing in the Mideast and is presumed to have been inducted into ISIS. Determined to find out the truth, Kirk travels to the Mideast and recruits an ex-Army Ranger (T.L. Bridger) to help him free her.
The film is inspired by true events and has already been awarded the Dove Foundation's Seal of Approval for 18+, a recognition that the film's occasionally intense action sequences do rise above the usual faith-based/faith inspired cinematic fare. To Be a Soldier has had one showing already, in Louisville, Kentucky, and the team behind the film is actively pushing toward a distribution deal with hopes of a Summer 2018 release for the complex, layered film.
To Be a Soldier is a refreshingly honest film, especially for a faith-based production, in that it doesn't shy away from the harsh, brutal realities of war. Alternately, it also doesn't glorify them. Director Adam Dufour is clearly aiming for honest yet inspirational filmmaking here, yet he does so with an authentic voice that remains true to the story and the inevitably difficult action sequences that need to get us there. There are twists in the story, some rather expected and some not so expected, and Dufour's ending, in particular, is an effective piece of filmmaking that drives home the film's solid acting ensemble.
There's no denying that the modestly budgeted To Be a Soldier occasionally is hindered by that low budget, especially in the area of a sound design that fluctuates a bit much and a bit distractingly. That said, the film's production quality is also surprisingly strong with Daniel Cleghorn's lensing being used to mostly positive effect and the original music, contributed by Jacob Dufour, serving as a dramatic yet natural companion for the film.
To Be a Soldier is an ambitious, effective piece of filmmaking that should have no problem finding an indie distribution deal. The film is, in fact, a vastly superior production to the less ambitious yet higher budgeted Pure Flix release Faith of our Fathers, a war-themed production that far too often came off as cartoonish. While the film has its challenges, To Be a Soldier should resonate with faith-based audiences seeking a serious, topical adult drama that can easily be discussed post-viewing. For more information on the film, visit its official website linked to in the credits.
Editor's Note: During the film's festival run, its name was changed from Sinjar: Valley of the Shadow to To Be a Soldier. This review has been updated to reflect that change.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic