‘Thank You for Your Service’ is Well-Intentioned and Crazily Inept

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Thank You For Your Service

How we as a nation deal with the men and women coming home from warzones has been a topic of ongoing political discussion since the outbreak of dual wars in Middle East. The problems at the Department of Veteran Affairs have been well-documented, and the sluggish political reaction to this problem has proven that the phrase “Support the troops” is a meaningless rallying cry devoid supporting action. Having had success with his lone screenplay, the Oscar-nominated American Sniper, Jason Hall makes the transition to director with Thank You for Your Service, based on the book of the same name by David Finkel. What starts out as a well-intentioned but ineffective drama takes a wild turn at the halfway point from which it can’t recover, as the film, which is “inspired by true events,” spirals out of control away from the personal story of its suffering veterans and into some truly bewildering territory.

The film opens with an operation on an Iraqi street that goes horribly wrong. The exact details of the incident are rather hazy but are central to the events that will follow. A trio of soldiers, Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), Will Waller (Joe Cole), and Tausolo Aeiti (Beulah Koale), commonly known as Solo, are returning home after their stressful and dangerous tours of duty. Adam returns to his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) and their two young kids, though money worries and other domestic issues plague his mind. Solo returns to his wife Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who wants her husband to settle down and father a child with her but his mind wants to return to the battlefield with his comrades in arms. Finally, Will returns to an empty house, his fiancé having moved out and emptied his bank accounts without a word. Though each man is a trained soldier capable of putting on a brave face, they trauma from their time on the battlefield and their attempts to get help are met by a bureaucracy that is overloaded.

You can see in the early going of Thank You for Your Service that Hall is earnestly trying to make something in the mold of The Best Years of Our Lives for the modern era. It doesn’t work, but it’s mostly forgivable, just shoddy and obvious dialogue that obscures some solid performances by its leading trio of actors. There’s nothing insidious about a well-intentioned drama that falls short of its lofty goals.

Then in an attempt to escalate the drama Thank You for Your Service flies off the rails. Adam struggles to re-assimilate with contending domestic issues and lingering guilt about comrades who were either wounded or killed, sometimes his mind going into dark places that have him contemplating suicide. Saskia gets wind of her husband’s internal suffering which then leads her being understanding before switching gears to being mad, a back and forth for the character that seems to be rooted solely in the notion that a wife must be nagging half of the time without exception.

Will has been pushed to his limit and commits suicide in front of the fiancé that has shunned him. (Trust me, this isn’t a spoiler it happens very early in the movie and you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce this character’s fate.) Eventually, Solo suffers from memory loss and is desperate for anything to alleviate his mental suffering, which leads him to seek out the party drug ecstasy which has been rumored to help. This takes Solo to the seedy part of town, which is solely populated by black people who only deal drugs, wield guns, have promiscuous sex in the backseat of cars, and run dog fighting rings.

These escalations are a grave miscalculation on the part of writer-director Jason Hall. I didn’t read the book by David Finkel, so I don’t know just how much was embellished as part of the “inspired by a true story” aspect. But these more and more outlandish elements deprive the story of its personal nature, and it bounces between Solo and Adam without much discipline. Compounding matters, Thank You for Your Service approaches PTSD as if there’s a one-size-fits-all aspect to the lingering trauma. It robs the nuance that each individual afflicted deals with, further cementing the popular belief that all suffering from PTSD are either prone to violent outbursts or suicidal tendencies. PTSD is a serious issue affecting thousands and thousands of veterans but it does them no justice to reduce their struggle to a simplistic mental imbalance. There are genuine good intentions behind much of Hall’s film but the execution isn’t there.

I think it’s evident that regardless of your political beliefs that the Department of Veterans Affairs could do a better job of taking care of those whom our nation has sent into harm’s way. The struggle of PTSD also deserve a light shined upon it. However, Thank You for Your Service is not the movie to do it. It’s a mix of well-intentioned ineffective drama and wildly outrageous sensationalism.

Thank You For Your Service
  • Overall Score
2

Summary

Mostly well-intentioned, Thank You for Your Service is an ineffective drama that takes some truly bizarre turns in its attempt to examine soldiers returning home with PTSD.

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