PTSD is a serious problem, and the way we treat veterans is an even bigger one. The concept of a movie following damaged vets is nothing new, but they mainly started post-Vietnam, the first war where popular media was willing to portray war as truly negative. Even with modern changes, things aren’t easier even if people constantly say they “support the troops.” In 2014, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) published a study that said nearly 20 veterans committed suicide every day that year.
Thank You For Your Service comes from Jason Hall in his directorial debut, based on the the non-fiction book of the same name by journalist David Finkel. Jason Hall also wrote the screenplay for American Sniper, which was also about the tragedies facing soldiers coming home. I had my issues with that movie, but it was decent enough, fake baby aside.
The movie starts with a firefight where one soldier (name of Emory) gets shot in the head, but miraculously survives. We then move to follow three soldiers and friends as they head back home. Miles Teller plays Adam Schumann (a real person), who is coming home to a wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) and two kids. There’s also Tausolo ‘Solo’ (Beulah Koale), coming back to his girlfriend and Will (Joe Cole), doing the same.
But things aren’t so simple. Will’s girlfriend has left their house and taken everything with her, leaving Will alone and bereft and damaged. Solo is suffering from severe trauma after many head injuries that are affecting his personality and memory. And Adam pretends everything’s fine, but he’s shaken both by the belief he caused Emory to be hurt more than he already was and that he caused the death of fellow soldier Doster.
Solo wants to re-enlist, firmly believing that the Army saved his life, but they won’t take him. The movie shows how these three are suffering, with thoughts and attempts at self-harm or suicide, hallucinations, and just terrible problems with the system. All throughout, I had the same sort of feeling: The acting here is quite good, and the story important, but it feels like it’s not a real story.
Miles Teller has some excellent work here as a damaged vet, elevating the simplistic writing of his character, and even Amy Schumer is decent in a small, non-comedic role. It’s hardly a bad movie, but it does seem more like an educational film designed to teach people about PTSD and veterans of the current conflict than an actual “film.” It suffers from being based on a true story, which rarely have story arcs that fit neatly in a movie structure.
One thing that this movie has over American Sniper is that it doesn’t turn the soldiers into superheroes, just men performing both heroic and normal tasks in their lives. Sacrifice and leadership are there, as well as pride and stubbornness. The movie does well in those scenes back in the war, keeping things tense and hard to watch, and many back home work well too. There are just a few too many scenes where it’s difficult to understand why they’re there. It’s okay, but not the next great movie about this complicated subject.
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Thank You For Your Service has a run time of 1 hour 48 minutes and is rated R for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity.