Thank You For Your Service (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Told from an earnest place, with the best of intentions, Thank You For Your Service is a respectful and moving film.
Writer/director Jason Hall rather bravely delivers a film that champions military camaraderie, acknowledges Americans' love and support of the troops, and then shows us how lacking support services happen to be for soldiers at their most vulnerable.
Good performances exist throughout, but a performance from New Zealand actor Beulah Koale is terrific and leaves the most lasting of impressions.
Though it does criticize a certain hypocrisy between claims of loving soldiers and their actual realities, Thank You For Your Service pulls its punches and never is willing to go all the way with what it is trying to say.
Though the film is good, other films have mined similar territory and handled it better.
Misses the mark inasmuch as it preaches to a particular choir, but feels like movies we have already seen. This should have far greater impact than it ultimately does.
Countless films attempt to document and reflect on the returning soldier's life back home, away from war, living a life full of new challenges and responsibilities. In Jason Hall's Thank You For Your Service, the directorial debut from the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, he takes us into the lives of three soldiers, home from their latest tour of Baghdad.
In 2008, as the Iraq War was raging into a fifth year, Americans were polarized over the conflict, with politicians adopting an anti-war stance earning the most campaign contributions from active military members. We were in the midst of electing a Democratic President after eight years of a Republican one. Reports confirmed that Saddam Hussein had no connection to the al-Qaeda attackers on 9/11. Frequent bombings in Baghdad dominated the 24-hour news cycle.
Adapted from David Finkel's book of the same name, Hall sets his film in this exact time period. And though he does little with framing a backdrop for the temperament of the country, heroism and respect is properly paid to Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), "Solo" Aiete (Beulah Koale), and Billy Waller (Joe Cole) upon their return. Exuberance and excitement greet them at the airport, but then everyone returns home.
Within a day or two, Solo, struggling with combat-injured memory loss and PTSD, is secretly trying to find a way to earn a next deployment, though he has learned that his wife Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is pregnant with their first child. Adam is making chocolate chip pancakes and attempting to slide right into domesticity with wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) and their two young children. Billy has returned to an empty house, his fiancée not returning his calls and nowhere to be found.
This dichotomy between each soldier's first days back home sets the stage for a film that soon begins stripping away the veneer of what is shown outwardly, and lays bare the struggles which consume them internally.
Haunting the soldiers, and Adam especially, are the memories of an incident which happened, prior to their return home. Though Adam saved a wounded soldier, the effort did not go well, and a secondary death of a member of their battalion leaves Adam prone to some one-on-one interrogation by grieving widow and mother Amanda (Amy Schumer).
Hall wants to take his film to a place of anger and frustration. A strong, pivotal scene showcases a lack of care, concern, and resources at the local VA, when Adam and Solo learn that they will not be able to see someone to discuss their mental anguish for as long as nine months. Hall lets the scene hang there for just long enough to get our blood boiling.
Masterfully composed, we feel the falsity and disconnect between a world which rushes to its Facebook wall to praise the troops, but then shun and/or ignore their needs once they return home.
And yet, Hall is perhaps too careful here. Thank You For Your Service dovetails between on-the-nose patriotism, effective moments of restraint, and searing social commentary. I have to admit, there's something appealing with regard to how uneven a film this actually is.
Among the main cast, the performances largely work well, but New Zealand actor Koale proves staggering in his authenticity and realism. Solo exists in a perpetual state of confusion, both from PTSD and declining capacity from his deployments to the Middle East. He needs conflict, he needs his brothers, he needs the structure of war, the chaos slowing down to normalcy for him.
In Hall's previous screenplay for American Sniper, I was extremely critical of how women are depicted in the movie - their dialogue consisting of yelling, shouting, pleading, and what came across as nagging. I was criticized in some circles for mentioning this, and Hall has tried a little harder on giving agency to the women who raise their families and support spouses gone for weeks and months at a time. Bennett makes the most of what she can with her role as Teller's wife. However, she isn't exactly given much to do except react and respond to Teller's actions.
And so once again, Hall misses a golden opportunity to provide viewers with a more well-rounded viewing experience. One day I would love to see a film that documents war, but the war back home. The struggle that women and children and parents and relatives endure is a story that needs to be told.
At some point, we need to thank them for their service.
Yet, as I ponder this concept, I must give Thank You For Your Service credit. Jingoism is set aside for a highly engaging and thoughtful and endearing motion picture experience. Sure, the film stumbles around a bit in trying to be decisive and make its pronouncements, but it comes largely from a place of honesty and respect.
Hall wants to tell these stories the right way and it is hard to fault him for leading with his heart on his sleeve, even if he mines similar and familiar territory in doing so.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Beulah Koale, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Joe Cole, Amy Schumer, Kate Lyn Sheil, Scott Haze, Brad Beyer.
Director: Jason Hall
Written by: Jason Hall
Adapted from the book "Thank You For Your Service" by David Finkel
Release Date: October 27, 2017