THANK YOU FOR YOU SERVICE
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.
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.
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
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.
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