Film Review – Thank You For Your Service
Thank You For Your Service
American films have a long history of attempting to deal with the fallout of war on the soldier’s psyche after they return to the States. Most every war seems to have it’s own defining film or set of films which spring to mind when portraying PTSD. The grandaddy of this genre, and the template that many have followed, is Best Picture winner The Best Years of Our Lives which dealt with 3 men returning home after WW2. Vietnam had Coming Home and The Deer Hunter amongst others. In recent years with what seems like an endless war in the Middle East, Hollywood has been trying to come to grips with the toll Iraq and Afghanistan have taken on the latest group of veterans. The latest in this line is the new film Thank You For Your Service.
There is no small bit of irony in the film’s title since the central theme is how little is being done to help individuals who have put themselves in harm’s way for their country. Based on a true story, 3 veterans come home after various tours of duty. Adam Schumann ably played by Miles Teller, is a family man with a wife and two young children. He is trying to ignore to the point of denial the traumatic combat situations he’s survived and overcompensates trying to be and eager father. But his wife (Haley Bennett) clearly sees that he is holding things back and is emotionally distant. Meanwhile, his two best friends are having trouble adjusting as well. The character played by Joe Cole is hurt to come back to an empty house where his fiancee has moved out on him. Solo, hauntingly played by Beulah Koale, tries to return to his wife but is fighting traumatic memory loss due to head injury. He is tempted into old habits like taking drugs and hanging out with gang bangers.
The most believable and moving parts of the movie involve the quiet haunted looks on the faces of Schumann and Solo. These guys are trying to live with what they’ve been through in war but are dealing with hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. One of the most pleasant surprises in the film is that these guys realize sooner rather than later that they need outside help. Usually in these stories we get bogged down with a whole lot of denial on the soldiers’ behalf before they finally seek treatment. But in the case of Thank You For Your Service, these guys actually listen to their spouses and this around them. They need professional care and a rehab facility. They try to get help from the VA hospital, but any services given to them have about a year waiting period. That is one of the most devastating points in the film. There are countless numbers of cases like theirs that need to be addressed, but the system we have in place for veterans is so overrun that they can’t come close to meeting the demand for services. This film is a critique of how our country is failing these guys.
The performances are solid. Miles Teller, who I often think of as similar to Edward Norton of 20 years ago, is one of our best current film actors. This guy is going to win an Oscar some day (provided he keeps away from more stinkers like Fantastic Four). His Schumann is a caring, selfless guy who dearly love his family. He is constantly putting his former platoon mates before him, urging Solo to take his place at the VA or trying to help another soldier for whose brain injury he feels responsible. But depression is getting the better of this guy. Koale as Solo is a surprising standout. His portrayal of a former druggie who went into the military to improve himself but now finds himself more damaged than ever is very believable. His million mile stare and humble frustration at his memory loss is palpable.
Director Jason Hall is a bit too heavy handed with the material. There are some obvious metaphors, like when Solo rescues an injured pit bull from a dog fighting arena, it is a hit-you-over-the-head metaphor for their trauma. Also, the recurring visions of a dead commander that Schumann keeps seeing are a little too obvious. And the movie tries to wrap things up with showing the underlying incident that has lead to Schumann’s survivor’s guilt through a scene with Amy Schumer in a rare dramatic turn. The movie tries to be a little too neat and tidy at times. This story is at it’s best when showing the quiet moments of sadness and fear that every day life is inflicting on these guys. Their worn out faces do more for showing us the price of war than the narrative itself.
Thank You For Your Service is in a similar vein as American Sniper. The director of this movie even played a role in that one. Both are based on a true story about the Iraq war. The earlier movie was more visceral, had more of the central character denying his trauma, and was more controversial in it’s debate of pro-American flag waving. This film is harder to criticize on a political front. Even the most liberal person can’t argue that the VA is under staffed and under funded as shown here. But this movie is strongest when showing the daily struggle of these vets. Based on the performances this movie should be seen.