“Thank You for Your Service” takes its title, ironically, from the platitudes that many veterans hear upon their return to the homefront after their time spent at war. But how, exactly, does the country actually thank them? Are parades, free beers, and handshakes enough? What of the horrors that revisit them in their sleep, the dire difficulties they face trying to re-enter lives that may have passed them by? This film lays the truth bare for all to see, and is a startling call that our society needs to do a whole lot more for these heroes than thank them.
Jason Hall, the writer of “American Sniper,” makes his directorial debut in this studio film that feels like an indie – rough around the edges, emotional, and not afraid to look in the ugly corners. The battle scenes are not flashy, but claustrophobic, and are not made to titillate but to terrify. The domestic scenes are shot tight, with close-ups and natural lighting. This is not a glossy, Hollywood version of reality.
The cast is led by Miles Teller playing Sgt. Adam Schumann, one of three soldiers that return from the war in Iraq to find lives that didn’t wait for them. They struggle with depression, PTSD, and how to make a living. This is not a movie dripping in jingoism and testosterone (something I think “American Sniper” struggled with) but is instead a meditation on the United States’ failure to have support systems for our battle veterans: the five-hour lines at the VA, with injured and frightened soldiers pulling numbers like they are ordering bologna; the multiple-choice scantron sheets attempting to verify if you are suicidal or not (and even if you are, we’ll call you back in 7-10 weeks when a spot opens up); the minimum-wage jobs and rampant alcohol and drug use. You hear about this stuff on the news, but seeing it captured on film is truly a wake-up call.
The three leads all excel – Teller continues to be one of the most exciting, young talents in the industry (I mean, have you SEEN “Whiplash?”), and Haley Bennett (as his wife Saskia) does great work as well. The true standout, though, is Beulah Koale as Solo, the emotional center of the film. He is tortured by his inability to go back to the war, even though his wife is expecting their first child. His is a slow spin into disaster, and he desperately searches for a helping hand to pull him from the abyss.
“Thank You for Your Service” is a well-realized, visceral examination of PTSD and the struggles our veterans face. The film is a slow, building story of dread and weight, and you walk with them every step of the way. It may be too earnest and realistic to do much at the box office, but it is a must-see for those seeking an intelligent story highlighting what should be a national discussion.