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HBO presents
Soldiers in the Army of God (2005)

"God hates murder!"
- anti-abortion activist Paul Hill, just prior to killing a doctor

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: March 02, 2006

Director: Marc Levin, Daphne Pinkerson

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:10m:51s
Release Date: February 21, 2006
UPC: 026359320828
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-BB- B

DVD Review

The firestorm over the judicial philosophy of Samuel Alito during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings is only the latest example of how abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in the public square. In any close election, you can count on the deeply entrenched ideologues trying to roust out the troops with abortion talking points, and it's unfortunate that in our Crossfire culture what gets rewarded with air time is not the search for common ground, but the most extremes on either side of the question. These are grossly caricatured by both camps—young women blithely having unprotected sex and killing God's children as their birth control method of choice on the one hand; imperial, invasive would-be agents of a theocratic police state on the other, extending the purview of the government right into your womb. No doubt it's a debate that sheds more heat than light, but mostly it's a whole lot of noise.

Except, of course, for the absolute most extreme, who, on the conservative end of the spectrum, are the subject of this surprisingly non-judgmental documentary. The filmmakers were granted unprecedented access to the workings of a handful of members of a group loosely associated under the name The Army of God, those whose feelings about the immorality of abortion runs so deep that they're prepared to—even happy to—use violence to get their points across. The question that's up for debate, of course, is this: are these simply extreme conservatives, or are they in fact fringe lunatics? No respectable pro-life person could possibly endorse violence of any sort; the Army of God is for those who don't think that the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are conservative enough. There's an obvious hypocrisy to their violence—look at the quote at the top of this review and you get a sense of just how divorced from reality people like Paul Hill are, and I admit to harboring an instant suspicion of anyone who tells me that they are following instructions from the Lord. (Jake and Elwood Blues would be the notable exceptions to this rule, but neither of them ever said anything like: "If God told me to kill, I would kill.")

One of the things that's most striking about this group is the frequency with which they make Nazi analogies. A website (since shut down) that listed names and addresses of those who worked at abortion clinics was called the Nuremberg Files; there are calls for the Supreme Court justices who voted for Roe to be executed for crimes against humanity, along the lines of the Nuremberg trials; one insists that today's America "is like living in Nazi Germany"; their annual dinner in D.C., the White Rose Banquet, takes its name from a group of young Germans who stood up to the Third Reich and were summarily executed. These guys have a grandiose sense of themselves and their mission—they repeatedly call for revolution, for secession, for civil war, and their schtick, whatever your politics, becomes tiresome and repetitive. And of course you can't help but wonder whether or not these guys (and most of them seem to be guys) are psychologically damaged. Gentlemen, even if you're fiercely pro-life, I suspect that you'd join me in performing the defensive genital clutch when one of the activists describes circumcising himself, to demonstrate to himself that he could do it, and not even as a tribute to a fierce and demanding God.

In many ways the crucial figure in the story here is Jonathan O'Toole, a 19-year-old who signs up for the movement—again, you need not share my politics to hope that this young man will disagree when one of his ideological mentors insists that "violence is the only answer." The film ends with a sequence that's a bit too pat, cross-cutting between a memorial service for slain abortion clinic workers and a conference of the soldiers of the film's title; still, getting a chance to hear these activists tell their stories in their own words is enlightening, if nothing else, and it's more of a chance than Paul Hill and his fellow murderers ever gave to their victims.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A respectable transfer; the film was shot on high-end video, and hence the contrast level can be ratcheted up quite a bit.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: It all sounds pretty clear, though the location shooting brings with it a number of aural obstacles, and the background noise can sometimes be a little much.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Esquire article (see below)
Extras Review: Most intriguing is an update (25m:56s) on Jonathan O'Toole, five years after the documentary footage was shot—he's got a new wife and a discharge from the Marines (expedited when the Corps got a look at this film), and discusses, among other things, being a witness at the execution of Paul Hill. There are outtakes (06m:50s) of interviews with Hill, filmed on death row; and also with his fellow soldiers Neal Horsley (10m:17s) discussing his previous career as a drug dealer, and Bob Lokey (03m:11s) on his own childhood. An interview (05m:15s) with Ann Glazier, Director of Clinic Security for Planned Parenthood, was filmed on the front lines, outside of a Buffalo clinic besieged by protestors and where the threat of violence is palpable. And certainly worth a read is the accompanying article by Daniel Voll, which was published in Esquire in February 1999, the launching point, presumably, for this documentary.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

A rare and candid look at the most rabid members of the pro-life movement, worth a look no matter what your abortion politics are like.


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