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Review: Thank You For Your Service

Thank You For Your Service
10.27.2017
8 10

Seeing a movie like THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE is no small task for me, but it's something I feel almost obliged to do. As a combat Veteran, any movie that depicts war, particularly modern war, is something I take personally. Throughout the years (and various conflicts) we've seen Hollywood tackle not only the battle on the ground, but the battle at home when the "war ends" for those returning from it, be it World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Desert Storm or the most recent conflicts in Aghanistan and Iraq (and many conflicts in-between). However, most of those films use the return home as a bookend, which serves to give a more cinematic (and violent) pulse to the preceedings, rather than mire an audience down in the plight of a Soldier when the combat part is over. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, however, takes the least-used approach, focusing almost entirely on the journey after the return home, rather than constantly flashing back to the "action", which makes for an emotional journey that may surprise those expecting an in-your-face BLACK HAWK DOWN style war film.

Miles Teller stars as SSG Adam Schumann, who returns home from his most recent deployment to Iraq, seemingly fine and ready to transition to civilian life with his wife, Saskia, played by Haley Bennett. However, there's much more going on with Schumann than he's ready to accept and things begin to unravel quickly once he tries to settle into his new role as a father and husband. Newcomer Beulah Koale plays SPC Tausolo "Solo" Aieti, an American Somoan who is suffering not only from PTSD, but also Traumatic Brain Injury, something very common for those who have been in an IED explosion (or worse). Joe Cole plays PFC Will Waller, who comes home to a sadly common scenario, especially for young Soldiers. All of them have a new battle in front of them and it's one that none of them have been trained for.

Jason Hall moves from scripting (AMERICAN SNIPER) to both writing and directing here (based on the book by David Finkel) and while he's not as refined as a more seasoned filmmaker, missing some beats, style and puncuation where it was sorely needed, he no less captures the most important thing (in my eyes, anyway) about a story like this; voice. Too often, Hollywood fails to capture the voices of American Soldiers and Veterans, instead filling them with stereotypical dialogue and actions that don't reflect reality at all (this includes some Oscar winners, too). Not only is the voice strong, but those carrying that voice personify the men who are kicking down doors overseas and then turning the handle back home.

Teller is exceptional as Schumann, playing the part of the strong leader hiding his pain until it seeps from his pores, and he gives the film a center; you feel rooted in his journey and his struggle. Newcomer Beulah Koale as Solo is also outstanding here; his wide-eyed gaze and internal struggle pouring into every scene as he goes from a fun-loving father-to-be to a tormented and deeply wounded Soldier. Haley Bennett is another force to be reckoned with here and continues to prove that she's a true talent to watch. When she looks to Teller and says "I'm stronger than you" it's easy to believe. She plays the rock that Schumann so desperately needs with full force and makes the role so much more engaging. Perhaps it's just her natural magnetism, but her presence here is felt. Amy Schumer drops in on an attempt at dramatic flair and does fine, looking almost unrecognizeable as the widow of a fallen Soldier. Additional strong performances come from a wounded Soldier (Scott Haze) that haunts Schumann and Solo's pregnant spouse, Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes), both of which show the aftereffects of war in very different ways, but equally important ones.

Where THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE faulters is in execution. Hall gives it his best and does a very serviceable job in the director's chair, but there are a few things that get lost in translation that begged for more insight and attention. There's a scene where Schumann is having sex with is wife and suddenly imagines her being shot, which can be jarring when no context of why he would even imagine that is given. Additionally, there are details that get shuffled or missed in the transition aspect of these guys, who seemingly get off a plane and walk into civilian life. Anyone that's served can tell you that it's not that simple and the reasons for that deserve to be told. The pressure to stay in is very real and anytime someone makes the decision to leave the military there's a real heft of weight tossed at them to reenlist. It's no small thing and adds to the realities of what transition means (i.e. what they're giving up). Additionally, we don't see the connection at the unit level, which is another key aspect to transition; leaving behind your teammates as many of them stay in and redeploy. There's a guilt there and a sense of real loss when saying goodbye to that family and although we see much of this within Schumann and Solo (amongst a few others) we never get into the emotional block that is making the decision to leave.

Suicide is another topic that's explored here in very vivid detail, as it should be. It continues to be on the rise for Veterans and needs addressing. However, for the film, one of the characters takes his own life and is never mentioned again after the funeral, which feels way out of place and somewhat unresolved. That said, the fact that it's addressed and not shied away from is a credit to the film. The process of getting treatment is also at the forefront of THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE and that's another very real struggle for hundreds of thousands of Veterans (myself included). Navigating the beauracracy of the VA and jumping through hoops just to get your name on a list can be disheartening in every way to someone struggling with trying to become a civilian after surviving the horrors of war as a trained Soldier. In short, it's much easier to make a Soldier rather than to unmake one, especially after you've run them through the grinder and the calls to action to support those that need treatment tends to end at "Support the Troops" and "Thank you for your Service".

While I felt there was more to be done in terms of style and execution for THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, the fact of the matter is it gets so much right in showing the plight of Soldiers returning home from war and I'm deeply thankful for that. Clunky and not quite fully-formed, this is still a film that resonates with emotion and genuine heart with performances that capture the voice and reality of who these men and women are that deal with PTSD and the general transition from military to civilian life. At a time when we're served up so much drivel and junkfood entertainment on a weekly basis, it's great to see a film like this not only get made, but put in theaters. While I'm not sure audiences are quite ready to care (hell, most people forget we're still at war at this very moment), the film is there to be discovered and could very well be the therapy a struggling Vet needs at some point in their lives or the catalyst for someone to learn more about this reality and/or take action as a result. There are endless stories like THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE floating around out there, so when one of them is able to pull through and make it to the masses you can't help but be thankful. Flaws and all, this is a film that deserves our attention and I hope these stories continue to be told.

Source: JoBlo.com

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