Hollywood has certainly turned out countess numbers of films of men in battle. The list of war movies is endless, but not so films about what happens when those men come back from the fight. Sure, there have been classics like the 1946 Oscar winner The Best Years of Our Lives which focused on World War II vets returning home, or 1978’s Coming Home and 1989’s Born On The Fourth Of July focusing on the plight of Vietnam vets, but this kind of movie is increasingly rare.
Thanks to writer-director Jason Hall, we have a new entry in this subgenre, Thank You For Your Service, and it is a powerful, unsentimental, sometimes hard to watch but always gripping tale of an Iraq battalion gearing up to fight another battle — the one to find their way home. Yes, as I say in my video review above, this is a film dealing with PTSD among these soldiers, but it also puts its focus on the brotherhood they created in a faraway war and the loneliness they now have in trying to adjust to life afterwards.
Hall, Oscar nominated for his screenplay to Clint Eastwood’s big 2014 hit American Sniper, adapts David Finkel’s 2013 book of the same name that was a sequel of sorts to his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Good Soldiers, in which he was embedded with a battalion of soldiers. With Thank You For Your Service he does sort of the flip side as he followed some of these men returning from the war and got a close up view of how difficult and misunderstood their lives had become as severe psychological and physical problems overtook them. For Hall, this is also really the flip side of his American Sniper screenplay, and he never (or almost never) resorts to a predictable storyline here in putting the focus primarily on three returning Iraq vets, which in most cases chronicles the real experiences of the real people being portrayed.
Leading the charge is Miles Teller as Adam Schuman, a confused young man coming back to his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) and their two young children. He remains haunted by events in Iraq where, after his friend Emory (Scott Haze) was shot in the head, Adam drops him as he tries to carry him down a flight of stairs. This is played out over and over in his domestic life, especially when he accidentally falls asleep and drops his baby boy. His interactions with the VA, as well as buddies who are just as lost as he, are fascinating to watch and give real insight into what these military veterans go through. Teller is excellent, as is Bennett, who heartbreakingly shows the helplessness she feels in not being able to help her husband no matter how mightily she tries.
There is also Tausolo “Solo” Aieti (a terrific Beulah Koale, from Hawaii Five-0), an American Samoan suffering the effects of a brain injury who gets in with the wrong people when he comes back. He also now has the added responsibility of a very pregnant wife about to give birth. And there is Will Waller (Joe Cole), who finds his fiancee has left him with an empty apartment and life to match. These are all fine performances in a cast that also includes a surprising dramatic turn from Amy Schumer, who proves she has chops beyond comedy in playing a desperate war widow who begs Schuman to tell her how her husband died just as he was about to get a leave home. Haze is also superb as Adam Emory, a man with severe brain and body injuries climbing the long road back. A scene where he takes Schuman on a joy ride in his Dodge is a highlight.
I read somewhere a guy predicted no one would want to see a movie about veterans dealing with PTSD because it would be like “taking medicine.” That kind of attitude toward those who served and now suffer from the effects of it all is sadder than anything in this moving and important film. I do hope it finds an audience who may actually be enlightened by what they see and find the mere act of just “thanking” our vets for their “service” is not enough.
A Bruce Springsteen tune plays over the end credits inspired by Schuman’s (he was also a technical consultant) recollections of a marching song they would sing during the war. The real-life Schuman sings background vocals, as does the film’s producer Jon Kilik, who enlisted Springsteen’s participation. Universal releases the DreamWorks production Friday.
Do you plan to see Thank You For Your Service? Let us know what you think.