Thank You for Your Service (2017) Review
LIFE AFTER WAR
War is a difficult and trying time for all who are affected bit. Since the dawn of humanity, wars have been waged by nations for power and idealism, juxtaposing the necessity of it all for that particular reason of belief. However, it’s the loss of human life that pay the ultimate price within war, on all fronts (the innocent and soldier alike). This is only escalated by the advancement of technology as war (in general) has become more mechanical and violent, producing weapons and tactics that have become more sophisticated and deadly with each passing year. What’s even worse than war itself is the aftermath that follows. As the battles end and the disagreement between countries have nullified, those affected by the ravages of war are left to pick up the pieces and move on from there. This is especially noticeable in the soldiers that come home from war, stripped of their military theater lifestyle, sent back to the lives before, and adjusting to the living in the real world. As to be expected, it’s not as easy as it seems, with many returning solder vets, facing personal struggles like PTSD and have difficulty comforting back to society’s daily routines. Now Universal Pictures, DreamWorks, and director Jason Hall present the film that discusses this real-life situation with the movie Thank You for Your Service. Does this movie shine light on this haunting trauma condition or does it fail to project the very “human condition” in amongst its cinematic melodrama?
Following the end of final tour of Iraq in 2007, U.S. Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller) returns home, reuniting with his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) and their two kids and adjusting to their family lifestyle in their growing family. Joining Adam on his return home are his two brothers-in-arms Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Koale) and Will Waller (Joe Cole), who are struggling with their own personal PTSD issues, deciding whether or not to return to active duty or to rejoin the civilian society. The trio soon realize that life after war isn’t what they expected, finding themselves inflicted with different forms of post-traumatic stress from their experiences. When tragedy strikes in the form of suicide, Adam and Tausolo are sent into an emotional tailspin, with both young men unprepared to face the harshness of reality. Fighting to receive veteran benefits, Adam becomes emotionally detached to Saskia, who’s disturbed by her husband’s cold behavior, as he searches of path to find solace within his PTSD frame of mind, keeping secrets about his tour locked away inside. Considering a California therapy center for treatment, Adam becomes acutely aware of Tausolo’s deepening desperation. With his degenerative loss of memory (due to bomb blasts), unable to receive government care fast enough, and expecting a child with his wife, Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes), Tausolo heads towards an addiction and recklessness to solve his problems.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Well, my opening paragraph pretty much says it all. War itself (or rather the nature of war) is harsh, cruel, bloody, and destructive, leaving many broken and unhinged in its wake. The sad truth of it all is that war is a necessity to human nature to those who desire more; more power, more dominion, more expansion, more spreading a belief or ideology. The price for war comes in all shapes and sizes and those soldiers affected by it (the ones that live) return home to face personal demons that haunt them even after they left the battlefield. Luckily, I haven’t been affected by any form of PTSD or anything like that (as I’ve never entered military service), but to hear of hundreds (if not thousands) of veterans (from all military branches) suffering from post-war traumas and the hardships of them returning home is a grieving thought and sight to see, especially when they put their lives on the line in service for this country. It’s a harsh reminder to all is that a soldier’s fight is within him long after he’s left the theater of war behind.
This, of course, brings me back to the present with my review for the movie Thank You for Your Service. I heard some internet buzz about the film via the movie websites that I frequently visit. This was then followed by the studio releasing the trailer online (I forgot to post it on my blog) and sort of felt that the trailer for the movie was painting a similar picture (story / narrative wise) to other wartime dramas such as American Sniper and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. So, while this movie wasn’t on my radar as one of my “must see” list, I did go to see the movie in theaters to see if it added a new layer to Hollywood’s cinematic examination of war, soldiers, and the burden they struggle with upon returning home. So, what did I think of it? Well, Thank You for Your Service isn’t the most riveting piece of filmmaking, but its definitely poignant and sincere its narrative topics and lead performances.
Based on the 2013 non-fiction book of the same name by David Finkel, Thank You for Your Service is directed by Jason Hall, whose previous work includes several small acting parts as well as writing the screenplay for Paranoia and American Sniper. Interestingly, Hall makes his directorial debut with this movie. Given the idea that he wrote the script for American Sniper, Hall makes Thank You for Your Service somewhat of a spiritual successor to the 2014 Clint Eastwood movie (American Sniper). What I mean is that both films examine a soldier, traumatized by his wartime experience, who returns home from a tour in Iraq and must readjust to life as civilian. Thus, it kind of makes sense that Hall would want to helm (direct) this feature of a similar tale to the big screen. In terms of directing, Hall does cultivate a solid movie for his first-directing outing, presenting a movie that places the idea of “life after war’ (and the inner struggles that come with it) at the forefront of the picture rather than a secondary one. The film’s script, which was also penned by Hall as well, also helps in examining the different lives of several individuals (through the eyes of Schumann, Aieti, Waller, and a few others) to help frame the story’s narratives, finding each one handling their own post-war lives in different ways. This, of course, means that the movie itself works effectively the best when the story is focused on character moments, with Hall capturing the regular / mundane reality that these soldier vets must face in conforming to their “old” lives pre-Iraq war tours. This also extends to the film’s quieter moments when it’s mostly just conversational scenes between characters, which usually showcased a person’s frustration or fearfulness, or even just simply war-buddy bonding.
Additionally, the film does have a few nifty cinematic shots throughout the feature (thanks to cinematographer Roman Vasyanov), which helps create a few intriguing shots as well as creating a very drab and grounded setting for the characters to interact within. Also, the film’s score, which was composed by Thomas Newman, has a few good pieces that are played in the movie.
As to be expected, Thank You for Your Service acts a representation to the real world (again, the movie is based off a non-fiction book and inspired by true events). The social commentary message of soldiers returning home from war, struggling to overcome their PTSD, and the difficulties of rejoining society are extremely palpable and very concerning. This also extends to the excessive government “red-tape” that veteran soldiers must undergo to receive benefits and aid in their treatment for their post-war lives / condition. What makes it worse is that this doesn’t extend to a certain age of a person or to a specific war that a soldier fought as it extends to all the wars that were fought (WWII, Vietnam, Gulf War, the current Middle-Eastern conflict, etc.) So, regardless if you like this movie or not, it’s kind of hard to deny that sheer hardship that these individuals (soldiers) must endure in both “over there” and back “on the home front”, forever haunted by his experiences in which they may or may not ever recover from. That’s really a mournful and scary thing to comprehend.
Unfortunately, Thank You for Your Service, despite its lofty intention and poignant topic, can’t elevate itself to the top of the heap of wartime drama features. The main crux problem of the movie is that some narrative elements either don’t exactly work well within the film’s context (some are a bit hodgepodge) or follow a conventional path in order to make a cohesive story. This means that the movie follows a familiar path for most of the movie, which makes the journey of the main characters satisfying but formulaic. Additionally, the movie ending (like the seven to eight minutes) feel a bit wonky and could’ve benefitted the picture if Hall and his team did a better job in wrapping the movie up. Another problem is the film’s Iraq story / action sequences, which bookend the feature. The problem with this is the movie’s middle section feels a sluggish, which is strange as the film is only one hour and forty-eight minutes long. This result also causes the movie to have a few pace problems in all three acts of the feature. Probably Hall decided to do this to help build up tension in the movie (making the movie have a “big reveal” moment in the narrative), but this tactic somewhat cheats a viewer as he never really goes into great detail about this “big reveal” moment. Perhaps he should’ve taking cues from Clint Eastwood’s other film Sully (i.e. how the movie’s big flashback events were scattered throughout the feature and the final flashback was the important one). If Hall did it that way (as well reveal a bit more), then the narrative’s story and tension) could’ve been better than what was presented. Lastly, the movie, despite its thematic real-world message and premise, doesn’t have incredible replay value (if you know what I mean).
Where has its faults, Thank You for Your Service makes up for in its characters and the cast that were selected to play the parts in the movie. Headlining the movie as the big actor of the feature is actor Miles Teller as Sgt. Adam Schumann. Teller, known for his roles in Only the Brave, Whiplash, and the Divergent movies, turns another fine performance as a real-life person (see him as Brendon McDonough in Only the Brave), displaying the conflicted emotional buildup within Adam’s easygoing exterior bravado. Teller also provides that he’s a capable actor of handling a lead position in a movie. I do hope that he gets more lead roles in the coming years of his career. Behind Teller’s Schumann, actor Beulah Koale (The Kick and Fantail) does a great job in portraying Specialist Tausolo Aieti (nicknamed Solo), making viewers sympathetic to his character’s neurological condition and to his situation that he eventually finds himself in. The relationship between Solo and Schumann serves as the main focal point for most of the second and third act, providing enough emotional dynamics as each one begins to unravel in their own personal way. It also helps that both Teller and Koale have a good on-screen chemistry to make their characters bond with each other believable. Additionally, while it does have as much screen time as Teller or Koale, Joe Cole (Green Room and Peaky Blinders) does a good performance Will Waller, a fellow soldier who is faced with some troubling news upon returning home from active duty. Kind of wished that there was more of his character in the movie.
Of all the side / supporting characters in the movie, actress Haley Bennett (2016’s The Magnificent Seven and Girl on the Train) gets the most screen time as Adam’s wife Saskia. However, while Bennett’s acting is fine in the role, her character isn’t given much depth beyond the average concerned / supportive wife archetype that we’ve seeing in other similar movies. Likewise, the same can be said for actress Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider and Game of Thrones) who plays Tausolo’s significant other, Alex, but she barely gets enough screen time to make her character memorable (she only serves a plot device in the few scenes that she’s in). Fairing the best in his small role has to be actor Scott Haze (Only the Brave and Child of God) who plays Michael Emory, another member of Adam’s Iraq unit who plays a somewhat vital part in Adam’s post-traumatic stress. Also, in a similar fashion, is the character of Amanda Doster, the grieving widow to Sergeant First Class James Doster (played by actor Brad Beyer), who is played by comedian / actress Amy Schumer (Trainwreck and Snatched). To be quite frank, it’s a bit odd to see Schumer acting in a movie like this. There’s nothing wrong with her acting ability or anything like that (she’s does a good job in the role of Amanda), but she just seems “out of place” a bit.
A soldier’s struggle from “over there” echoes and haunts him on “home front”, facing the trying times of returning to normalcy in the movie Thank You for Your Service. Director Jason Hall makes his directorial debut with his wartime dramatic feature that exams the PTSD condition and the hardship that soldier veterans of war face when adjusting to civilian life. While the movie can’t overcome to several problems, most notably in its conventional narrative structure and pacing issues, it does make for in its thematically awareness premise as well as several strong performances, especially Teller and Koale. Personally, I thought was fairly good. It was definitely a poignant, meaningful, and respectful subject topic to present / discuss, but the movie itself could’ve been better in some areas (perhaps maybe in an experience director’s hands). Regardless, the movie is worth seeing, but maybe only as a rental, which is what I recommend this movie as it really doesn’t have that wholesome replay value. However, it’s a favorable rental movie. Nevertheless, while the subject matter is a sensitive topic, Thank You for Your Service shines a light on this condition / situation to real-life soldier vets that return home from war, showing that a soldier’s work (battle his or her own personal demons both physically and mentally) is never done. So, next time when you say “Thank you for your service” to a veteran soldier…know that those words have much more deeper meaning than just a passive and polite saying.
3.6 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: October 27th, 2017
Reviewed On: October 28th, 2017
Thank You for Your Service is 108 minutes long and is rated R for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity