“No Knights Templar shall ever surrender,
Or leave the blood on the hands of the evil assassin,
I shall protect the poor,
and the Holy Order
But above all things,
I vow to be forever pure,
So that I may join the martyrs that have given their lives,
In the name of Jesus Christ,<
To Kill for Christ, is Christ attained.”
~ Rule of the Templars, J.M. Upton-Ward, (Boydell, 1997)
We’re back this week with a rather odd little flick, Soldier of God. It’s a definite improvement over last week’s “Viking” debacle, Northmen: A Viking Saga,. Touted as ‘Kingdom Of Heaven with a soul’, it wasn’t spectacular but it was a good effort and did manage to set itself apart from the usual blockbuster Crusade-inspired medieval war films.
It’s 1187 AD, somewhere in the Holy Land just outside of Jerusalem. We meet Rene, played by Tim Abell (Sons of Anarchy, Hatfields and McCoys: Bad Blood) a quiet, taciturn, and pious French Templar Knight. Rene survives the disastrous Battle of Hattin that saw Saladin wipe out the Crusader army and behead most of the surviving Templars. He is captured along with another knight, but after the knight dies, Rene manages to escape his captors after they fall asleep. He ends up wandering in the desert and nearly dies until a kindly Shiite Muslim named Hasan, played by William Mendietta (Dead Border, Till You Get to Baraboo) saves Rene by giving him water. They part ways but Rene pays Hasan back for the kindness later on when he stumbles across him being attacked by brigands. Rene swoops in to chase off Hasan’s attackers and saves his life. Realising they are both destined for Jerusalem, they decide to travel together.
En route, Hasan collapses from the injuries he received in the attack and Rene runs to get help. He comes across the beautiful Soheila, played by Spanish actress Mapi Galán (Savage Grace, Sleeping Beauties). She is the widow of a Muslim warrior, and lives with her baby in the desert alone; she is also a skilled healer. She allows them to stay with her while Hasan heals from his wounds.
Over the course of their stay, the two men are at odds over the purpose of the Christian army in the Holy Land, their religions, and the clash of cultures. Soheila plays peace maker and spends her time smoothing out the tension between Hasan and Rene who have built this odd, loyal, quasi-friendship. Rene insists on not leaving for Jerusalem without Hasan, and Hasan, in turn, feels indebted to Rene for the times he saved his life. Rene starts to question his purpose, and is sorely tempted by the lovely Soheila. He is forced to consider if Hasan may not be right in that he has nothing to look forward to in Jerusalem since his order was decimated at Hattin. Would it not be better to stay out here with a beautiful woman, start over, and live a normal life? Unfortunately, Rene doesn’t have much time to fully consider this option and their strange friendship takes a tragic when a secret Hasan has been harbouring is revealed that puts them all in grave danger and has horrific consequences.
“Crazy Christian. I should’ve left him in the desert. I was doing fine on my own” ~ Hasan
Soldier of God is a relatively low budget production, but it doesn’t come across as cheap, or suffer as a result of its financial limitations. Most of the actors in this movie aren’t well known in terms of Hollywood star-power, but that’s irrelevant; the acting is solid and engaging. In particular, Rene is an interesting character; he doesn’t say much but he was able to keep my captivated every time he appeared on screen. He isn’t blustering about, swinging a sword every five minutes, and pontificating about his religion. He’s extremely pious, but introspective, and only discusses religion when challenged by Hasan or Soheila.
Hasan offered the comedic flashes in the film with his teasing of Rene’s strange Christian behaviour. The two have some great scenes together that made me laugh, especially when Hasan is quick to point out Rene’s ignorance, challenging the idea that Muslims are backwards, when it’s clear with Rene that he could learn a thing or two from Hasan.
The one problem for me, and this will be the case for many viewers, is the pacing. If you’re looking for a blood, guts and glory Crusader flick, like Kingdom of Heaven, mashed up with some Templar mysticism and conspiracy theories, then you’re watching the wrong movie. This film can be very slow in places and has very few fight scenes, at least not the Hollywood, excessive slo-mo for ten hours drudgery that we are usually exposed to in these types of movies. When fighting does happen, it’s quick and brutal.
Soldier of God is a movie that creeps up on you. There are other actors playing brief roles as Templar knights in flashback scenes before the disastrous defeat at Hattin, some playing Muslim brigands, and a few other characters sprinkled into the mix , but they are so incidental to the plot that they’re completely forgettable. As for Soheila, she is interesting for all of five minutes and then goes to being a prop fro Rene’s wavering faith and a location where the story of the two men unfolds. This movie is pretty much all about Hasan and Rene’s relationship and their pasts. Everyone else might as well be extras for al they add to the story.
I struggled with Soldier of God, for the most part, I enjoyed the film. It’s won several awards at several smaller film festivals but it was frustrating due to the pacing and the unsatisfying ending. I could see where the film makers wanted it to go but it floundered for me midway through, and then won me over again at the end. I can’t say jokingly, as I usually do nearly every week, ‘watch at your own peril’, because there are some great moments in this movie. I can definitely say that you will come away either really enjoying it or absolutely hating it. I enjoyed it, and didn’t feel I was wasting an hour and a half of my life – which is what usually happens when I sit down to review a medieval movie. Like my other favourite genre, horror, I find most medieval movies tend to range from mediocre to downright awful, with a few gems in-between. It’s the gems that make it worth trying. This is a decent, low-key film with some solid acting, and an interesting story about a friendship between a Templar and a Muslim just before the outbreak of the Third Crusade. In the end, Soldier of God isn’t exactly a gem, but it’s certainly a decent flick and time well wasted. Until next week, Happy Medieval Movie “Knight”