“Thank You for Your Service” Movie Review


     A game and highly effective ensemble cast brings writer/director Jason Hall’s “Thank You for Your Service” to startling and vivid life with a story that will hit close to home for anyone who has served or has had a friend, family member, or loved one that has put their life on the line for the freedoms we enjoy each and every day.  Led by a powerful performance from Miles Teller, the film clearly seeks to make a statement, telling us it’s time to put the politics of war aside and focus on the young men and women who emerged from the battle field wounded both physically and mentally while simply doing the job they were ordered to do. Hall, who is no stranger to the genre having penned the script for 2014’s “American Sniper” as well, focuses on the return of three soldiers from Iraq and the rocky transition back to civilian life which awaits them, basing the film on the book by David Finkel.

     First and foremost, regardless of the effectiveness a film like “Thank You for Your Service” can have on an audience, there really is no way for a person who has not experienced the kinds of daily stress a member of the armed forces will endure during a war time tour to actually understand what is causing their continual pain.  Loved ones will always do their best to comfort and listen, but one can’t simply wipe away the grisly images he has witnessed, or stop hearing the sounds associated with looming danger, or remove the smell that seems to be permanently entrenched within his nose and is associated with the enemy who may be lurking about, hidden within the foreign lands he is sworn to protect.  These men and women, for the duration of their tours, operated as a team where each person has a specific job.  There are routines and procedures to be followed.  And they become numb to the everlasting taste in their mouths of being in a situation that could be their last. 

     Suddenly it’s all gone and you’re back in civilian life, enjoying the freedoms you had a direct hand in helping provide, but at what cost?  Members of the military who return from these conflicts rarely return unscathed, and in most cases seem to be forgotten all together.  That is essentially what Hall seeks to point out.  In the opening sequence, we meet Staff Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), a seasoned member of the United States Army stationed in Iraq during the heights of that conflict in 2007.  His primary job?  To ride shotgun in the lead vehicle of patrol convoys looking for suspicious items that could be IEDs set in their path with the intention of taking out the entire convoy.  If he sees something he isn't comfortable with, then the convoy may reroute and take another path to their destination.  We are told through interaction with the soldiers under him that he’s really good at what he does, but in war very little goes as planned.  The incidents Hall depicts in Iraq are not the epic battles seen in many war films that altered the course of the war or made heroes out of its participants.  The missions Schumann and his men embark on in the film were part of the everyday tasks that all have the propensity to go south at any time and brings light to the kind of warfare our troops were involved in as they went door to door in constant peril.

     Upon return to the states, Schumann and two of his troops, Solo (Beulah Koale) and Will (Joe Cole), arrive to a hero’s welcome, but only minutes into their emotional return, the realities of what they will now face turn what should have been a time to celebrate into a situation as draining as many of the ones they faced in Iraq.  Schumann is immediately confronted by the widowed wife of his boss who died during a mission Schumann was ordered to sit out.  It is the first of many trying times these three men will deal within the days to come, as Schumann finds reintegrating with his family that includes his wife, Saskia (Haley Bennett), and two young children, to be significantly more difficult then he might have thought.  Solo returns to his girlfriend and soon finds out she is pregnant with their first child, but he feels he owes a debt to the Army for saving him from his troubled juvenile past and longs to get back into the fight in what would be his fourth tour in Iraq.  Will also has big plans with his girlfriend, but soon finds out she clearly isn't on the same page.

     With all three men dealing with the adjustment of being home, they come to depend on each other through nights out at the local bar or impromptu hunting trips in a nearby forrest, but each is dealing with something inside of them that threatens themselves and every one who cares for them.  They might admit it to each other, but won’t to those around them since doing so in their minds would make them appear weak.  Each of them has seen the very worst of the human condition, observing fellow soldiers with lost limbs and no semblance of any quality of life, which often forces them to keep the mental anguish they are experiencing to themselves, thinking that others are suffering far worse than they are.  Fact is, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is real and can easily inflict the kind of unbearable pain that can result in suicide, depression, and horrific mood swings, all of which are displayed by the real life characters in the film.

     “Thank You for Your Service” speaks to this cause so loudly, that one cant help but hear the message.  It’s important to understand that while Hall’s film focuses on the smaller picture of three returning soldiers, the statement being made is that of an epidemic problem in our country, especially now a ten plus year war in the rearview mirror and the men and women who fought it are often finding themselves with no where to turn.  As I write this, I’m staring at a shadow box on my wall full of ribbons and medals that signify my own service, but also serve as a constant reminder of the horrific things I witnessed and experienced and have to this day never spoken about to anyone.  Fact is, no one comes out of these circumstances feeling whole ever again.  One of the most important scenes in the film has Schumann standing at a window at a VA hospital being told by an employee that he will have to wait 6 to 8 months just to be seen by a psychiatrist.  His response in which he tells the man he doesn't think he or the many people in the waiting room can wait that long needs to be heard loud and clear.  GRADE: B+