Writer-director Josh Aronson’s moving documentary “To Be of Service” takes an intimate, respectful look at the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on U.S. military veterans and the ways in which pairing up with specially trained service dogs dramatically improve their emotional and physical well-being.
Aronson (2000’s Oscar-nominated doc “Sound and Fury”) memorably immerses us in the tough, complex lives of an array of vets who candidly recount their harrowing experiences serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam; the traumas that followed them home (to New York, Wisconsin, Montana, North Carolina and elsewhere); and the painful road to their varying degrees of recovery. Several mental health professionals informatively weigh in as well.
The film also depicts how, if these soldiers’ PTSD never disappears, they can learn to manage it with support from family and fellow veterans, therapy, medication, exercise and more. But it’s the stabilizing and comforting presence of a service dog that uniquely helps ease such injurious consequences of PTSD such as fear, paranoia, loneliness and suicidal thoughts.
It’s hard not to be taken by these beautiful animals’ intelligence and devotion. More specifics about the dogs’ training, care and the costs involved would have been a plus. Otherwise, it’s a stirring portrait of war, duty, sacrifice and the love of a good dog.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills