The American military is controversial as an institution, but the individuals who comprise the institution receive an enormous amount of empathy. They give up huge swaths of their life for one reason or another. Usually, it’s to provide a future for their fledgling family and to protect the country they love. However, when they return to civilian life, they are rarely the same. The horrors of war take their toll on those serving on the front lines. It’s a bit of an open secret, and many steps have been made to destigmatize PTSD over the last decade or so.
Synopsis: A group of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq struggle to integrate back into family and civilian life, while living with the memory of a war that threatens to destroy them long after they’ve left the battlefield. (IMDB)
Starring: Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, and Keisha Castle-Hughes
Writer: Jason Hall
Director: Jason Hall
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 108mins
For showtimes and more, check out Thank You For Your Service on movietimes.com.
As a subject, PTSD is less of a taboo than ever, but there is a distinct lack of it in modern war films. Yes, it colors in the edges of films like The Hurt Locker and American Sniper, but few films tackle the issue head on. Thank You For Your Service tackles the subject head-on.
Based on the book by David Finkel, Thank You For Your Service follows three soldiers as they return home from a tour of duty in Iraq. While on patrol for improvised explosive devices, their platoon is ambushed, and Staff Sergeant Adam Schumann (Teller) saves his friend’s life. Back in the states, he attempts to re-assimilate into civilian life with mixed-results.
Thank You For Your Service is an uncompromising look at soldiers re-entering the world of civilians. The long tours of duty wreak havoc on their psyches, and the passage of time changes their loved ones back home. Little details like not realizing his daughter hates chocolate chips, drive the point home to Schumann, and drives a wedge between himself and his wife, Saskia (Bennett). Bennett and Teller turn in great performances, and keep the piece afloat as best they can.
The honest tone is refreshing and necessary. However, it can work against the film, mechanically speaking. A large part of coming home for American soldiers hinges on getting their Veterans Affairs benefits. The process is frustrating, confusing, and disheartening. The movie pulls no punches in showing Schumann and his friends dealing with VA, but watching them twiddle their thumbs in waiting rooms and navigating bureaucracy can be like watching paint dry. However, it is nicely juxtaposed with the extreme outbursts of PTSD they face. It’s a fully rounded portrayal at a subject that must be talked about.
Hall (American Sniper) directs the film from his own script. His direction and script are competent until they aren’t. The film covers a wide berth of time, but exactly how much is unclear. Characters reference that it’s been months since they’ve been back, but it feels like days in “movie time.” Also, the final act takes place over two days, and it does not seem like that many events can happen in such a short amount of time. Furthermore, Hall commits to the mistake of telling and not showing.
The events of a specific patrol loom over the main characters of the film. The incident is talked about in whispers, when nobody is around. The problem is, the dialog about the incident references characters and events we haven’t seen yet. Eventually we see the event play out in full, but it’s too little too late. It would have been more effective to weave the flashback sequences into the whole film, rather than as one big chunk near the end.
Ultimately, Thank You For Your Service isn’t a war movie. It’s a drama about American soldiers committing one of the biggest sacrifices of their lives, and being met with indifference on the other end. It’s a constant problem in America, and one that needs to be dealt with. For that, the film is timely and important. However, its runtime feels like molasses, and its script is uneven at best. Much like Hall’s American Sniper, it’s bolstered by an excellent lead performance, but its shortcomings give it little value outside of the important issue it shines a light on.
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