Well-made, but not exceptional look into PTSD
The opening scene of Jason Hall's directorial debut Thank You for Your Service shows one of the several harrowing events that took place in combat that remains unforgotten by our main character, Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), even after he returns home. While on a rooftop, he led his crew into an ambush, resulting in his close friend Michael Emory (Scott Haze) taking a devastating bullet to the head. He threw Emory over his shoulder, the blood from the gash in his skull dripping onto his face and his mouth as he walked down a flight of stairs before accidentally dropping him on the final few steps. Emory lived but the physical pain is permanent, as is Adam's mental pain a small part of Hall's film suggests.
Thank You for Your Service doesn't address the way soldiers are victims of cruel manipulation and cheap pathos when they return home like Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk did, but it has echoes of such subtext. More importantly, it doesn't sacrifice the core of its story for empty jingoism and long-winded combat scenes like American Sniper. It mostly succeeds in treading the middle-ground of being a favorable gun-cry movie and a meaningful humanization of how war becomes every man for himself once the plane touches down and the soldiers make the rough re-assimilation back into everyday life.
Adam comes home to his humble abode to be reunited with his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett), daughter, and infant son who now live in a ramshackle home as opposed to their former home they lost and are in the process of getting back. Adam returns with his friends Tausolo (Beulah Koale), a Samoan soldier who is suffering severe memory loss and Billy Waller (Joe Cole), who returns hoping to see his fiancée and daughter but comes home to an empty house. The film is anchored in Adam's story since he is the most put-together of the three, yet still affected by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) like his fellow brothers.
Saskia is particularly frustrated when her husband begins seeking out his veteran benefits and psychiatric treatment with Tausolo behind her back. She finds his questionnaire in a folder of pamphlets that has him admitting to suicidal thoughts and that going on is getting more difficult by the day. Hampering his guilt is the worn face of Amanda Doster (a well-cast Amy Schumer), the wife of a fallen First Class Sergeant who still haunts Tausolo in elaborate visions that trigger violent bouts of rage.
Teller is terrifically cast in another role that suits his affinity for characters with dramatic depth, and he's only assisted by Bennett whenever the two share the screen. One of the best scenes inThank You for Your Service is also one of its most impressionistic, as Hall's camera lingers on the two of them sitting side-by-side in a psychiatrist's office. Saskia mistakes a potential job the lady suggests for Adam as one on a gun-range when it's a tank-range and the mistake prompts a few genial jabs at one another while the two clearly hold back tears and momentarily suppress their pain.
Koale, a young New Zealand actor, also handles the challenges his role brings very effectively. His violent tendencies feel real, and his emotions authentic when they must emerge and provide a scene with tone and gravity. There's a glow to his face and a relaxation that washes over him whenever he's on-screen with Teller, showing that Tausolo is a different man when in the company of someone who knows how dangerous the frontlines are. The supporting performances from Schumer and Brad Beyer, as Sergeant James Doster, are exactly what they should be and that's a relief in the sense the movie doesn't shortchange making every scene involving them count.
Hall wrote American Sniper, a film that merited several Oscar nominations and a lot of controversy due to the positioning of its subject matter. Thank You for Your Service is not only a better film but a film I feel will resonate with more soldiers and hopefully give those who are so casual to throw around their support for veterans and their love for the military in a boastful way a closer look at the men who don the uniform. Hall, working off of David Finkel's novel of the same name, is quick to show the overcrowded and often unhelpful state of VA offices around the world, many of which are understaffed and accustomed to putting veterans on lengthy waiting lists that render them helpless and without necessary treatment for months. One servicemen tells Tausolo that at a rate of twenty a day, he can't understand how or why veterans kill themselves. All he needed to do was walk outside of his office and see lines, filled waiting-rooms, and helpless people in such large quantities it would trigger PTSD in the average DMV worker.
Thank You for Your Service is a well-made movie, not exceptional due to its tendency to become a bit of a "montage movie," sometimes too reliant on two or three quickly paced scenes that skate by without much detail or development. Yet when Hall allows the characters to breathe and operate like people with a lot of downtime and brooding moments of silence, he makes a film that's more textured and respectful than his previous work, a film that seemed only intent on touching on the crux of PTSD without much depth. Here, his focus is realized, and as a result, he brings out the best in a slew of great actors while making a film that, like help and treatment, will reach the ones who need to see it the most.
If only it could've found a moment in its 108 minute runtime to squeeze in the perfectly fitting ballad "Human" by Rag'n'Bone Man that complimented the film's trailers with a terrific emotional weight.
Steve's Grade: B