Indivisible (2018) Review
A STRONG AND SINCERE
In the world of cinematic movies, films about war (and therein the military) are never subtle pieces, finding most to be steeped in gritty action and / or a barrage of realism. The affects of war from both soldiers and its casualties are also instrumental aspects in these movies as well, showcasing the hardships that it causes from both on “the actual battlefield” during the middle present of events and (in a more psychosis measure) “the battlefield of the mind” that lingers within the aftermath of the fight. While not necessarily a new subgenre, war films have been steadily on the rise, with many been produced in the attempt of shedding light on all fronts, including the warring of nations, the consciousness / morality of war itself, the physical endurance surviving wartimes, and overcoming challenges of war all that are ensnared by its horrific / destructive events. The same can be said about faith-based movies, which are not subtle either in presenting the religious beliefs in a feature length film. The ideas of a person (or group) facing adversity that challenges their beliefs as well as sometimes dealing with loss of faith or the discovering of one is also a palpable message for these types of movies to tackle. These, while usually can be a bit “on the nose” with its meaning, still finds its strides within its thematic presentation of discussing personal beliefs of faith and understanding. Now, Pure Flix, the WTA Group, and director David G. Evans present the movie that brings war and faith together with the film Indivisible. Does this marriage of two movie genres finds its voice (and meaning) in this cinematic telling or does it flounder in trying to find its message (point) across in a theatrical presentation?
Army Chaplain Darren Turner (Justin Bruening) has a strong, faith-filled family, with his wife Heather (Sarah Drew) by his side and their three kids providing a wholesome family lifestyle. Fresh from the seminary and basic training, Chaplain Turner and his family arrive at Fort Stewart, ready to serve God, Family, and country for the nation’s military branch. Yet, before the Turners can fully “settle down” into their new house, Darren is deployed to Iraq, leaving Heather left to care for their three children alone. Arriving at one of the frontline bases in Iraq, Darren faces challenges in trying to comfort the soldiers in his religious words of wisdom of God and faith, befriending fellow soldiers Lance Bradley (Tanner Stine), Shonda Peterson (Skye P. Marshall), and Michael Lewis (Jason George), who is actually the Turners’ neighbor back home. Despite a steadfast desire to “serve” for the soldiers around him and stay connected to his family, the harsh realities of war begin to weigh heavy on Chaplain Turner’s mind; seeing firsthand the terror that his fellow battalion soldiers face during their extended duration in the Middle East. Back at home, Heather deals with raising her kids, while trying to be a “support line” for many of the army wives, including Lance’s wife Amanda (Madeline Carroll) and Michael’s wife Tonya (Tia Mowry), in the community. However, burdened with vivid images of war and an indifference to those who can’t comprehend, Darren faces a personal challenge; one that shakes his very staunch and devout attachment to God right down to his very soul.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Much like what I stated above, the art of “subtlety” is not the major factor when examining a military / war motion picture as well as a religious-based film. The former usually tends to drive the narrative forward with more of a plot-driven story, effectively showcasing the tides of war (through either grizzled action sequences or through emotional drama depictions of the “cause and effect” of such tumultuous times (i.e. the realities of war). The latter focuses more on the “battlefield of the mind” (kind of like what I mentioned in the opening), reiterating a personal journey through trials and tribulations that usually test a person’s faith in religion. In both regards, I like both styles of films, finding each one to their own advantages (and weaknesses). However, some religious based movies out there can be a bit more…how to say…cheesy and bit more “preachy” in trying to convey its thematic message across in a theatrical arena. That is why (of the two) I like more war / military movies, ranging from more realism portrays like American Sniper, Unbroken, and Lone Survivor to more “cinematic” ones like Dunkirk, Eye in the Sky, and Act of Valor. That being said, some recent faith-based movies have proven to be effective; evolving beyond some of the conventional boundaries like The Shack, Woodlawn, and I Can Only Imagine in being entertaining as well as projecting its message across to its viewers.
This brings me to talking about Indivisible, the latest Christian faith-based movie out released from Pure Flix, which is known for producing and distributing Christian films like God’s Not Dead, Moms’ Night Out, Woodlawn, and The Case for Christ. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie on the internet and only heard about the movie when I saw the film’s movie trailer a few times during my weekly movie theater outing. Judging from the trailer, the movie looked like the standard Christian movie that usually “roll out” ever so often, with a story of faith, hope, and loss being (presumably) the main focal point. However, something about this movie caught my attention (maybe focusing on an Army Chaplin protagonist did), but I was slightly curious to see this movie when it came out. However, given the fact that Indivisible was being released during the end of October (right before the holiday season rush of big studio features), the movie, which was only showing at one theater near me, was only going to be shown for one week. So, having a day off from work, I decided to see the film before it got pushes out. What did I think of it? Well, to be honest, I quite liked it. While there were some problems with it, but Indivisible is a solid faith-based movie that succeeds in its presenting its story and message in a sincere and meaningful way that doesn’t undercut its own theatrical feature. It may not be the absolute best Christian faith-based film out there, but it’s still a well-made and thought-provoking motion picture.
Indivisible is directed by David G. Evans, who previous directorial includes the 2010 movie Grace Card, which coincidentally is also another Christian drama film. Thus, Evans makes Indivisible his sophomore directed movie and (for what it’s worth) he actually does a pretty good job, approaching the material to be brings a very palpable and poignant story to light. I would say that Indivisible is more of drama war film (wrapped in faith-based guise) than an action war feature. Don’t get me wrong there are few moments of action in the movie, but it doesn’t overpower the movie’s main themes. Thus, Evans never distracts the movie with mission-based operations or setting up a “bad guy leader” enforcer in the movie. He just keeps the film revolving around the Turner family (and those around them) and that’s a good thing. Thus, it goes without saying that Indivisible is more of character driven movie rather than a plot driven movie, which (given the subject matter of a person’s faith and belief) is a good thing.
Perhaps one of the more remarkable things about Indivisible is that (for those who don’t know) the movie’s story is based on a true story, with Darren Turner being the main prospect in the film. Of course, having a real-life foundation to build upon is always a good thing (i.e. adding that realism to a cinematic endeavor), which does make Indivisible quite an endearing feature to watch; knowing that majority of the film (albeit some parts may have been dramatize to “spice up” the narrative). However, Evans does his stride in delivering some character moments as well as hitting all the right notes when speaking of Christian faith. Perhaps another big interest for me with this movie was the fact the film’s story mostly centers around a Chaplain in the US Army. While military chaplains have been featured in multiple military-based films, never has there been a movie solely about one…that is until Indivisible came out; retelling Darren Turner’s story of being deployed in Iraq (in 2007) and experience the heat of battle around him, while trying to practice and comfort the men around him on the religious faith of Christianity. To me, that’s quite interesting for a main character, which made me want to see the film in the first place.
In addition, Evans also co-wrote the film’s script (with some assistant from Cheryl McKay and Peter White), with the film finding an interesting narrative. Yes, it goes without saying that other movies have tackled the more modern day “War in Iraq” and the soldiers in both during the fight (i.e. over there) and when they return back home to rejoin society after seeing fighting the battles of combat and war, with movies like American Sniper and Thank You for Your Service putting a spotlight on that narrative previously. Naturally, this goes into shedding light upon PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) and how it affects soldiers returning home from war. Like the actual condition, Evans does present a straightforward answer to the PTSD, showing conflict with the Turner household as Darren wrestles with his grief and begins to speculate (doubt if you will) on the vitality of God. Evans also delves into the lives of military wives, seeing Heather Turner “pressing forward” with a single parent of dealing with normal day things (without her husband around) as well as trying to be “life support” for others like her in the community. Together, Evans seems to know that does so in delicate way, crafting Indivisible in thematic way that’s quite insightful, moving, and sincere all wrapped up together in a feature film. Of course, the movie will tug on your emotion heartstrings (as to be expected), but it doesn’t feel like that “manufactured type”, but feels genuine, especially given the subject matter and the film adheres to that message, presenting a tale of faith, loss, and redemption.
Looking beyond the narrative, Indivisible’s technical presentation also is another positive for the movie. While the film won’t win any nominations scores at the award shows, the movie does have a certain wholesome feel that definitely feels appropriate and good. Meaning that Indivisible doesn’t feel (or look) cheap nor dose it feel bloated with unnecessary visual aspects. It just feels right along the industry standard for a movie like this (and that’s good thing). Thus, the efforts made by Darian Corley (production design), Chelsey Staggs (set decorations), and Bob Scott (cinematography) shine well in their respective areas, adding the overall likeability to the film’s background / setting aspect. Plus, the film’s score, which was compose by Paul Mills, is pretty good, adding that extra background layer of empathy and dramatic effect whenever called upon to evoke that particular emotion. In addition, Indivisible does feature a couple of Christian based songs, including Casting Crowns’s “Oh My Souls” and Jordan Feliz’s “Faith”, which was featured in the film’s trailer.
There were a few problems that noticed throughout the movie, making Indivisible stumble in a few areas. The most obvious one (as many would suspect), the film’s overall based premise can be bit a “off-putting” to some. As mentioned, the movie is presented as a faith-based feature, with Christian overtones being made throughout the entire film. Thus, the film’s appeal and (in general likeability) might lean towards those of the Christian faith, making Indivisible’s viewing experience limited to the masses of causal moviegoers. I’m not saying that the movie is bad or anything like that as it is actually one of the better Christian-based movies out there (of late), but you know what I mean. In addition, while the movie never does gets “preachy” like some Christian movies do, the film does hit some religious aspects a bit “on the nose” and may be a bit too conveniently in trying to wrap everything together in a cinematic tale. However, after examining a few other Christian movies out there, most are kind of like that. I guess its sort of the “name of the game” when trying to approach movies that draw on faith and religion.
Another problem with the movie is, despite being “based on a true story”, that it does come across in a slightly predictable manner. Without knowing anything about the film or the real-life Darren Turner, I went into seeing Indivisible only really knowing what the movie trailer presented and knew that it was “based on a true story”. Still, I kind of found myself somewhat “guessing” what would happen in the movie and (for the most part) I was right. Yes, the feature is still sincere and thematically good in what the movie wants to tackle and present to us (the viewers), but the actual lot and construction / formation of the movie’s narrative (on how it ebbs and flows) is not exactly original; making some shocking / revelations moments, despite being palpable in nature, not quite the surprise I think that Evans wanted.
Perhaps my biggest pet peeve about the movie is the film’s pacing, which is a bit off at various parts in the film. The movie (as a whole) conveys a lot of narrative threads to follow throughout its characters (most important with Darren as the focal point of the picture). However, Evans (as well as McKay and White) seem to have a hard time (during certain points) juggling character threads, with some getting pushed to side and / or not coming to fruition as much as they intended to. This also effects the bit of the flow of the Indivisible, seeing the movie find a certain stride for few scenes and then plodding through others in a less-interesting fashion. Its not a huge deal breaker that would “derail” the movie, but it is a noticeable throughout.
With Indivisible being more of a character driven than plot driven, the film’s cast is one of the best selling points that the feature has to offer, finding their respective parts to equally impressive in bringing the emotion (and thematical message) to forefront of the film. While most are relatively unknown for their previous works on smaller projects (not much of “big ticketed” celebs), this doesn’t mean that their acting talents are relatively good. Thus, before talking about them (and their characters), I do have to mention the film’s casting personnel Beverley Holloway for casting the grouping of actors / actresses in the film.
At the head of the pack is actor Justin Bruening, who plays Indivisible’s main protagonist character of Army Chaplain Darren Turner. Bruening, known for his TV roles from All My Children, Good Behavior, and Grey’s Anatomy, does some excellent work as Darren, bringing a sense of likeability to the character as he progresses through his journey in the movie. Being the film’s central character, it’s crucial to sort of “buy into” the character of Darren, which we do…thanks to Bruening’s performance. Every dramatic poise, lighthearted moments, and emotional scene is conveyed brilliantly by Bruening and succeeds throughout the entire feature, never really overselling his performance in a way. Because of this, Darren journey in Indivisible makes for some compelling material, especially as the film heads into the final stretch in the third act. Again, while not so much big-time name, Bruening’s talents are masterfully noted in his role of Darren Turner in the movie (and he’s probably my favorite role / character in the feature).
The other major player in the movie is actress Sarah Drew, who plays Darren’s wife Heather Turner. Known for her roles in Grey’s Anatomy, Radio, and Moms’ Night Out, Drew definitely shows the right amount of theatrical talent in representing Heather in Indivisible. While the movie doesn’t stray too far from what’s being usually presented as the soldier’s wife in other war / military films of late, the character of Heather has more “to do” in the feature than just sit around and be the “concerned” military wife. We saw her try to care for her children, counsel other around her, and see her being active member in the community. Plus, the film’s more emotional moments are what definitely sells her portrayal of Heather, with Drew conveying the right amount for those particular scenes. Plus, I did feel a genuine on-screen chemistry with her and Bruening, which greatly does sell the relationship between Darren and Heather. All in all, both Bruening and Drew are brilliantly casted in Indivisible and do carry the movie as the film’s two main leads.
The other players in the movie revolve around the characters of both Darren and Heather Turner and how each one touches and effects their lives. This includes actor Jason George (Kidnap and Grey’s Anatomy) as Michael Lewis, actress Tia Mowry-Hardrict (Sister, Sister and Family Reunion) as Michael’s wife Tonya Lewis, actor Tanner Stine (Zac and Mia and The Thundermans) Lance Bradley, actress Madeline Carroll (I Can Only Imagine and Flipped) as Lance’s wife Amanda Bradley, and actress Skye P. Marshall (Black Lightning and Shameless) as Sgt. Shonda Peterson. While most of these narrative threads are well-represented and have a good wholesome story fulfillment by the time the movie reaches its end, some of their subplots get more time than others, with Amanda and Shonda getting the sort of “short end” of the stick in their story threads. Nevertheless, each one in this group brings solid acting work in their roles, bringing to life the trials and tribulations that many real-life military families go through in the same situation.
Rounding out the cast are Eddie Kaulukukui (40 Nights and Winners) as Sgt. Carter, actor Eric Close (Nashville and Without a Trace) as Ltc. Jacobsen, and actor Michael O’Neil (Transformers and Dallas Buyers Club) as Chaplain Rogers. While not fully developed as characters (because they are more minor supporting ones), each one still brings their wholesome acting talents to the film’s proceedings; making their small parts effectively good whenever on-screen.
Faith, loss, and redemption are instrumental points to examining in a Christian faith-based movie and do so when talking about Army Chaplain Darren Turner in the movie Indivisible. Director David Evans’s sophomore film takes a look inside a military chaplain’s first active duty in Iraq, facing challenges and wrestling with questions of his morality with his religious faith. While the movie does stumble in its pacing and its predictable nature, the film is still a strong and solid feature that succeeds more than it falters, especially thanks to Evans directorial work, the film’s great cast (most notable Bruening and Drew), and the poignant “based on a true story” tale and heartfelt message in both military life and in the eyes of Christians (a bit “on the nose”, but never feeling too preachy or cheesy). Personally, I liked this movie. While there were a few problems with it, the film itself kept me engaged as I was quite “moved” by the story of Darren Turner and the struggles and triumphs that both he and his wife faced throughout the film’s journey. Barring the film I Can Only Imagine (because like that movie as well), I would have to say that Indivisible is one of the better Christian movies of late. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is both “recommended” for the fans of Christian faith-based movies and even for the military families as well and a solid (and favorable) “rent it” for those causal moviegoers out there. In the end, regardless of whatever religious being / deity you believe in, Indivisible is a strong and powerfully moving feature of a person’s religious faith, the personal demons an individual one must bear, and the power of redemption in whatever guise it takes.
4.0 Out of 5 (Recommended / Rent It)
Released On: October 26th, 2018
Reviewed On: November 1st, 2018
Indivisible is 119 minutes and is rated PG-13 for some thematic material and war violence