Miles Teller and his band of brothers pay the ultimate sacrifice, in ‘Thank You For Your Service’. The movie follows a group of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq who struggle to integrate back into family and civilian life, while living with the memory of a war that threatens to destroy them long after they’ve left the battlefield. Starring an ensemble cast led by Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Joe Cole, Amy Schumer, Beulah Koale, Scott Haze, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Brad Beyer, Omar J. Dorsey and Jayson Warner Smith, the drama is based on the bestselling book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author David Finkel. Jason Hall, who wrote the screenplay of American Sniper, makes his directorial debut with ‘Thank You for Your Service’. The film is rated R for strong violent content, adult language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity.
There’s certainly no shortage of post-war films that deal with the traumatizing experiences that only one immersed in the battles for our freedom can detail. Most notably, films like ‘American Sniper’ and ‘Brothers’ pack emotionally stirring exploits that depict hell on Earth being oceans between the peaceful surroundings that we as citizens take for granted every day. ‘Thank You For Your Service’ might be the single best one in this respective subgenre because this is a film that feels like it is finally giving us the whole story involved with post-traumatic stress, and not just catering to the conveniences that play coincidentally into the kind of events that anyone in or out of war would know. Jason Hall’s decision to write and direct this riveting story was definitely the correct motion, as there’s such a fluidity from screenplay to screen that pivots in-sync wonderfully. It’s clear that Hall’s agenda is to showcase that there is a steep price that comes with being a hero, a term that is so loosely defined in the film that it makes it difficult to assume whether it is a positive or a negative, blurring the line of protagonist versus antagonist carefully without it playing into an obvious battlefield gimmick that we’ve seen far too often in war flicks that associate with one particular narrator.
For this screenplay, I found it very full of depth because the movie doesn’t focus on just one character, but instead these three longtime friends and soldiers who return home after serving four years in Iraq. It’s in their versatility in characters and traits where the film can delve into so many variations and coping mechanisms with trauma that we as an audience can explore and educate from within ourselves. One of them is anxious to get home, one of them cannot wait to re-enlist for four more years, and one of them seems kind of lost in the shuffle between two lives that he doesn’t comfortably fit into. Each one of them engages in their own struggles once they return home, and it’s in that perspective where I soaked in the scenes of awkwardness between their families seeing them that simulated the hearts of this trio being finally home, but their minds forever being lost overseas. There is a strong disjointed feeling from the three of them that makes this anything but a smooth transition, and it’s in that glance where the film’s psychology starts to take in and gives us glances of what millions are dealing with even in 2017.
Hall’s biggest message feels like it’s saying that there isn’t enough that we as a country can do to mend this permanently broken fence, and fix the damage caused by the new war that they now face at home. Help doesn’t seem to happen at a quick enough pace, and because of such, so many are lost in the shuffle with their own individual nightmares that feels like a suffocating blanket that smothers all of them when being asked to return to normalcy. The message never feels heavy-handed or overdone, and instead relies upon the screenplay subtly taking us alongside our cast of characters when they finally declare that enough is enough. Even from a visual perspective, Hall’s style of filmmaking leaves a lot of distance between us and particularly Miles Teller’s character during these brief moments of reflection. There’s a lot of wide angles that similarly hint at how alone and lost that Teller’s character feels in this new world, and how the immensity of this cloud of uncertainty for situation surrounds him like a dense fog. Hall’s patience and originality in both screenplay and screen override some of the small problems that sometimes snag at the fluid progression of the third and final act.
For me, there’s not a lot to point out here in terms of negatives, but one such example is in the limited opportunities to soak in the actual war field that is talked about repeatedly throughout the film but rarely shown. This mystery stance works early on because there’s so much that Teller’s character in particular is hiding about one fateful day that left his troop in shambles. To reveal this at the end is wise, but I feel like only including five minutes of this experience in the first act of the film is harmful to us as an audience understanding and being able to compare and contrast the two worlds that divide our cast and pull at them like a tug-of-war. After this reveal, the film also just kind of ends without carrying much of the same impact that constantly elevated throughout the 102 minute film. It’s not a violent subdue, but rather a slow release of air that lacks the revelation within a war film’s final devastating exclamation point that it sadly lacked.
Thankfully, these performances are mesmerizingly moving from an ensemble cast that disturbs the definition of supporting characters. Really all of this cast is a main cast because they all go through the rises and falls associated with war. On that account, Haley Bennett gives her very best performance to date, commanding Teller’s wife and Mother of two beautiful children with the kind of unsettling bridging to her husband that commutes to us that not everything is alright. Some people might not her character for being a bit distant from her husband, but to me I found her emotional registry to be very on-point with what a lot of lonely females go through when they are forced to carry the load at home. Miles Teller is also riveting as Sergeant Schuman. Being that this is based on a real life person, sometimes the wiggle room of a character can be limited, but Teller makes Schuman his own, juggling a cryptic emptiness in his demeanor at home that plagues his ability to move forward. Miles is evolving rapidly as a dependable presence on screen, and roles like this really channel the versatility in his personality that proves he can do it all. It was also a startling surprise to see Amy Schumer playing a serious role as a wife who loses her husband in war to a lot of uncertainty and mystery that Teller’s character isn’t letting onto with details. She’s briefly in the film for only a couple of scenes, but it is an eye-opening performance that proves she has a place in film when all of the low-brow comedy finally loses its legs from her early filmography.
THE VERDICT – ‘Thank You For Your Service’ feels like the most downtrodden thank you to the troops who sacrifice everything for us, but it’s the honesty in their side effects that Hall takes advantage of, giving them a truthful tone and depiction for the first time ever without apology. This film is another one that makes you truly hate the price tag and concepts associated with war, but its brutal honesty never loses grip in the bittersweet pill that some men and women make it home, but don’t actually make it home. Hall and Finkel prove that when one war ends, another one begins, and it’s in that message where the minefield of life truly takes shape in all of its startling surprises.