A film review by Craig J. Koban November 7, 2017

THANK YOU FOR YOU SERVICE  jjj
  

2017, R, 108 mins.

 

Miles Teller as Adam Schumann  /  Haley Bennett as Saskia Schumann  /  Joe Cole as Will Waller  /  Amy Schumer as Amanda Doster  /  Beulah Koale as Tausolo "Solo" Aieti  /  Keisha Castle-Hughes as Alea  /  Brad Beyer as Sergeant James Doster  /  Scott Haze as Michael Adam Emory  /  Omar J. Dorsey as Dante  /  Kate Lyn Sheil as Bell

Written and directed by Jason Hall, based on the book by David Finkel

 

 

 

Movies about the hellishly brutal nature of war and combat and the effects that it has on soldiers after they leave the battlefield and return home are not only a relative dime a dozen, but are also a very tricky genre to pull off effectively, mostly because of the overt familiarity with the underlining material.  

There have been a handful of rock solid ones over the last few years, including STOP-LOSS, BROTHERS, and even this year's MEGAN LEAVEY, not to mention classic examples like THE DEER HUNTER, COMING HOME, and BORN ON THE FORTH OF JULY.  Because this is such a relatively overstuffed genre whose entries, to be fair, have the noblest of intentions, I find myself frequently resisting new iterations because they often come off as melodramatically preachy with nothing much new to say. 

The somewhat oddly and ironically titled THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE - based on the non-fiction book of the same name by American journalist David Finkel - somehow finds a manner of achieving noteworthy relevance despite the fact that it suffers from some wobbly scripting and a frequent lack of narrative focus.  Finkel's book - a sequel to THE GOOD SOLDIERS, which chronicled the lives of infantrymen in Iraq between 2007 and 2008 - examines the conflicted psychological struggles that soldiers face as they try to re-adjust themselves back to some semblance of normalcy with their wives and families back home.   Rather refreshingly, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE is not a deeply political film about the rationales and motives behind the Iraq War.  First time director Jason Hall (co-writer of AMERICAN SNIPER) delves into the more compelling and heartbreakingly intimate particulars of how soldiers suffer on the homefront, where they still wage an internal war within themselves as they desperately try to forget what they've witnessed.  As a thoughtful probe into the incalculably devastating toll that war has on men as they try to re-enter civilian life, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE is emotionally involving and sometimes dramatically gut wrenching.  

 

 

And, yes, we've all seen films like this before (as alluded to earlier in this review), but Hall nevertheless captivates and holds our attention with the material, mostly thanks to the outstandingly grounded ensemble performances that give his film such an authentic soul.  Where Hall stumbles, though, is in character introductions and a somewhat muddled first act.  It's 2007 and we met Sergeant Adam Schumann (a ferociously committed Miles Teller) knee deep in a vicious firefight with enemy combatants while on tour in Iraq, which leads to one of his fellow soldiers being shot and wounded in the head.  As Adam tries to rescue his dying friend from enemy fire he accidentally drops him down a flight of stars, compacting his injuries.  Even though Hall stages these sequences sensationally well, our buy-in is subverted, seeing as we're thrust into a situation that we know nothing about involving characters that have not been established yet.  It makes for an exhilaratingly visceral, yet awkwardly constructed opening to the film. 

The film then slows considerably down as we see Adam and his few remaining soldier friends returning home to Kansas, all with plans to reunite with respective wives and families.  Even though Adam and his BFFs Tausolo (Beluah Koale) and Will (Joe Cole) seemed outwardly enthusiastic to be coming back home, it soon becomes apparent that all is not mentally well with the trio.  All of them, in some form, are dealing with the paralyzing effects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which is made worse as they try to subvert it from loved ones.  Adam in particular has faces great hardships, seeing as he's trying to be a father to a new baby he doesn't know while attempting to rekindle his thawing marriage with his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett).  Will, on the other hand, returns home to find out that his wife-to-be has left him and taken most of their possessions.  Tausolo, rather terribly, is a ticking time bomb that's been ravaged by not only PTSD issues, but is also facing horrible memory loss based on being in the epicenter of too many bomb blasts. 

The best scenes in THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE are the most difficult to watch, which all have a shocking immediacy that pack a devastating wallop.  Adam is facing his own internal struggles with suicidal thoughts over guilt in his handling of the aforementioned wounded solider, whereas Will - in the film's most quietly brutal moment - confronts his ex at her workplace with tragic results.  Tousolo yearns to be back with his platoon, mostly because he simply doesn't know any other way to lead his life, but a fried brain, rampant memory loss, and anger management issues makes him woefully unqualified for re-enlistment.  There are many depressing scenes in THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE showing these poor saps engaging with reps from Veterans Affairs, all of whom are so back logged with case files of thousands upon thousands of troubled soldiers seeking help that they're frankly incapable of helping them.  Lesser films would have painted these case workers as easy villains, but here they're more or less frustrated by their own inability to do more because of political hurdles. 

Veteran Affairs wait times is arguably the biggest antagonist in THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, seeing as this institution is overtaxed and can only offer assistance after vets endure achingly periods of several months to obtain medical help.  If anything, the film is a stinging indictment of the American government's lack of immediate aid in helping service men and women becoming healthy and well adjusted before many wretchedly take their own lives.  The American military is also to blame as well, especially as outlined in the film's most depressing scene as Tousolo pleads with a superior officer to help clear up some details about his tour so that he can officially begin the process of securing much needed medical benefits from Veteran's Affairs.  He needs to provide proof that he was involved in the bombings overseas that caused his memory loss, which are being denied by Veteran's Affairs because an official document of his participation doesn't exist.  The superior officer barely listens to Tousolo's pleas for help...mostly because he's too busy buying beef online on his office computer. 

The performances are uniformly outstanding, especially by Teller, as he has the difficult performance challenge of playing up to his character's cowboy-like bravado and charm that inwardly harbors a morally crushed and damaged being that's having great difficult coming to grips with his own suicidal thoughts.  I especially liked the New Zealand born Samoan Koale in his quietly powerful and understated performance as his brain raddled soldier that shows his unending pain though just his eyes and stillness.  As for the women that occupy the narrative, they're a mixed bag, at best, with Jennifer Lawrence look-alike Haley Bennett acclimating herself well to her tough willed, but vulnerable wife that's empowered enough to stand up to Adam without fully realizing what he's going through.  Amy Schumer also appears in a very underwritten role as a grieving wife that accosts Adam upon his return to America and yearns to know what happened to her dead husband while serving there.  Schumer, known largely for comedic roles, is barely in the film to make a sizeable dramatic dent, which ultimately makes her cameo and casting quite distracting.   

Then there's the whole undercurrent of what exactly happened to Adam and company while in Iraq, which is mostly dealt with in an oblique and unsatisfying way.  This has a lot to do with the somewhat shaky editing that permeates THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, which frankly jumps around from scene to scene in a largely undisciplined and chaotic fashion at times. leaving many subplots feeling rushed and unfinished.  Then there's a hastily shoehorned third act that involves Tousolo devolving into becoming a drug and gun runner for a crime boss that feels like it's from a whole different kind of movie whatsoever.  The payoff to this character arc never feels altogether plausible either at the film's end. 

However, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE gets past its scripting road bumps and sluggish opening third to become a fairly captivating portal into the fragile mindsets of returning soldiers, showcasing them as shattered men whose lives are in multiple problematic pieces that are seemingly impossible to put back together again.  Even when the story veers towards Hollywood schmaltz and plot contrivances, the soldiers presented within felt real and their problems equally rang true with sobering veracity.  And on a big and unexpected positive, this is a rare war-is-hell-and-ruins-lives melodrama that has an aura of hope in the end in showing these men of war recognizing their feeble states and wanting to get help.  That's the largest war these soldiers will ever face...and hopefully conquer.   

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