Military dramas are often solely focused on the combat that occurs overseas. Where Thank You For Your Service shines is it’s stunning attention to detail of those fighting of the home. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’s effect on the thousands of military families in the U.S. is the subject of American Sniper writer Jason Hall’s latest work. Hall, who also directs, puts PTSD front and center in this film. Bolstered by the ever-impressive Miles Teller’s commanding and nuanced performance, Thank You For Your Service is thought provoking piece that while at times loses its focus, never wavers from the message it’s trying to spread.
Teller plays Sergeant Adam Schumann, a veteran of the Iraq war. Schumann and his squad return home to find that they didn’t really leave the war behind. One of the films acting standouts is Beulah Koale who plays Solo. Solo has memory issues from being blown up, but ultimately will do anything to get back to the war. Service is on the surface an in depth look at the effect PTSD has on the families. Joe Cole plays Will, a solider who returns home to find his life isn’t what he left behind. That is a major theme of the film, its harrowing to watch these guys go through what they go through.
Perhaps in a more subtle manor, Service also looks at the treatment of the soliders upon discharge. The crowded VA offices treats them as a number. The top brass in the military are seemingly oblivious to the struggle. They didn’t fight their war, Teller’s character says as much. And still, those types of “big military” head honchos don’t understand. If there is anything to take away from the Service it is that these people exist, and they have no time for former soldiers, they are focused on the next war. So are our soldiers, but theirs is mental.
Haley Bennett is also spectacular as Mrs. Schumann. She sees passed the tough exterior of her husband. The two shine and their chemistry, or sometimes emotional disconnect, is throughly believable. Both Ms. Bennett and Teller are among young up and comers in this industry. Teller’s performance is restrained and yet effective on an emotionally. Schumann has had to be tough his whole life. It is against to be the vulnerable solider his wife wants him to be. But, as the story dives deeper into Schumann’s life, this much becomes clear, the war soldiers isn’t left in the desert. Rather, for some, that war is permanent. Its a torturous lifestyle that Teller and his co-stars portray so well. Even more impressive given the fact the film is based of Washington Post writer David Finkel’s popular book.
As a film, Service wanders a bit. It’s easy to get lost sometimes. There are some moments of confusing choices from the editing room. When the film focuses on its characters, its effective and affecting. Though Hall, making his directorial debut, tends to meander off course a couple of times. Much of these flaws are reminded by its swift pacing, and satisfying runtime. While most of the cast is really solid, Amy Schumer makes a few brief appearance that doesn’t work at all. At this point in her career, it’s clear she doesn’t belong here quite yet.
Service is off and on a political affair, as it should be. Hall isn’t here to tell you what to feel. He’s adapted this story to simply tell it. Hollywood has wisely come away from the jingoistic war films of the early 2000’s. Much like his previous work on American Sniper, Hall stays away from taking a side. Paradoxically, there is a sense of ire towards the VA that is palpable, but never overarching or on the nose. It isn’t that these therapists don’t want to help, it’s that there are so many in the crowded VA offices, it’s hard to see everyone. Hall seemingly understands. But just because we understand the reason they struggle, doesn’t mean we can’t be angry. In a sense, that’s the undertone of the film.
Given current events, perhaps this movie is one of the more timely ones of the year. Thank You For Your Service is a harrowing, but necessary watch. Some may ultimately find comparisons to the great William Wyler film, The Best Years of our Lives. One could even draw comparisons to Ron Kovic’s story in Born on the Fourth of July. None of those parallels matter. It’s still an important lesson that needs to be shared. The movie is a portrait of the modern solider dealing with the immense trauma they desperately want to leave behind. In many ways, Thank You For Your Service is a veiled discussion of the empty talking points many politicians have about veterans. If you can’t appreciate it as a movie, one can’t help but appreciate it as a conversation starter.
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Thank You For Your Service
Rated: R (for for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity)
Runtime: 108 Minutes
Starring: Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Beulah Koale, Joe Cole, Kiesha Castle-Hughes
Directed by: Jason Hall