To Be of Service

Movie review by
Lynnette Nicholas, Common Sense Media
To Be of Service Movie Poster Image
Raw, honest documentary gets real about postwar trauma.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 88 minutes

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Positive Messages

Broken hearts and emotional and psychological trauma begin to heal with help of an animal. Feelings of dejection, disconnection, and shame are overcome, and breakthrough comes for those willing to embrace help and change. Misfits and underdogs who feel outcast after returning from war begin to find their place -- and start to feel again. Through training and compassion of service dogs, and with loved ones willing to give unyielding support, lives are changed. By choosing to continue to fight to live after experiencing war, men and women with a "soldier's heart" show who the real heroes are.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Men and women who've seen, experienced the worst of life and war choose to embrace help of others, including service dogs. Family members, spouses, loved ones showcase what it means to love relatives and others who may never be the same after suffering emotional, psychological, and spiritual trauma. Compassion, empathy, and perserverance are shown by courageous human beings who often still struggle with depression, isolation, loneliness, etc.


No violence shown, but veterans often speak honestly and graphically about harsh realities of war. Flashbacks from war and triggers include war-torn bodies, dismembered body parts, memories of smelling rotten flesh, and descriptions of people tortured for no reason at all. Talk of rape, including gang rape of young girls. Reference to a suicide attempt.


All sexual content/references are in a violent context; see "Violence" for more.


Minimal profanity.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking/drugs as escape mechanisms. Medical drugs administered. Reference to a suicide attempt with pills.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that To Be of Service is a raw, honest documentary about U.S. veterans and the service dogs that help them heal from the emotional trauma of war. The film -- which doesn't shy away from highlighting the harsh realities of war -- follows men and women in their day-to-day lives as they strive to return to life as normal, which can be a very difficult process. While there's not much profanity, the documentary features adult subjects that are at times graphically recounted. Many of the veterans suffer from PTSD, and there are conversations about violent topics like rape, gang rape, dismembered bodies, war zones, thoughts of self-harm, and more. That said, while the film doesn't shy away from telling the truth about the emotional and psychological scars of war, there are also many positive themes: healing the brokenhearted, overcoming mental and emotional roadblocks, persevering through the darkest of times, and recognizing the positive impact that service dogs have on the lives of the people they're partnered with.

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What's the story?

TO BE OF SERVICE is a documentary about U.S. veterans who are trying to cope with life after surviving war. After all else fails, it's the unconditional love and support of service dogs that starts to mend the wounds of these brokenhearted people who at times believed that they'd never be able to feel emotions again -- or face reality.

Is it any good?

This moving documentary deals honestly with the ugliness of war while also highlighting the beauty of service dogs. To Be of Service shows us that veterans are the real superheroes. But these heroes aren't always treated with love and respect when they come home -- and life is never the same once you return. While stories and flashbacks of war are graphic, viewers can't help but respect the truths that are spoken, because this is the reality of what happened in their lives. This film shines a bright light on PTSD and encourages sharing empathy, patience, and unconditional support with our veterans. Viewers also learn a lot about service dogs. One subject says that the love that she has for her service dog comes second only to her love for her child.

Under Josh Aronson's direction, PTSD is given a human face -- and it's crystal clear that that face could be anyone's mother, father, brother, or sister. Having medical professionals like a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist speak about PTSD brings even more balance to the documentary's narrative. This film will appeal to many different audiences -- animal lovers, veterans and their families, medical professionals, and people from all walks of life -- because trauma is universal. To see people from various walks of life muster the courage to start over is inspirational and showcases tenacity. It may even encourage others who are losing hope as a result of their own PTSD or memories of war. While it delves deeply into uncomfortable realities like self-hatred, suicidal thoughts, and bipolar disorder, To Be of Service simultaneously elevates ideas about the power of love and "having an animal that loves you, just because you are 'you.'"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how To Be of Service shows the importance of empathy, compassion, courage, and perseverance. Why are these valuable character strengths?

  • What are the differences between a service dog and a pet? What are some unique traits of a service dog? In what ways do the veterans' lives change as a result of having a service dog?

  • How can society be more of service to veterans? What are some ways that civilians can show gratitude for the price that veterans have paid?

  • What defines PTSD? What are the symptoms of PTSD? How far back in history can signs of PTSD be identified? Can you think of other movies that have dealt with this topic?

Movie details

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