Film Review: ‘Thank You For Your Service’ Is Admirable Rather Than Memorable

Since “The Hurt Locker” won Best Picture in 2009, Hollywood has sought to dramatize the war in the Middle East. Arguably the most successful entry in the new subgenre, “American Sniper,” deals with the effects of PTSD when soldiers come home. The mental health of veterans takes center stage with the latest war film, “Thank You For Your Service.” While obviously reverent, the film never quite soars the way other recent films about the war in the Middle East do.

Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), Tausolo “Solo” Aieti (Beulah Koale) and Will Waller (Joe Cole) return home after a particularly harrowing incident in Afghanistan. Upon arrival, the trio realizes nothing is quite the same. This is particularly hard for Will, who finds his wife and child have left. As they see their friend struggle, Adam and Solo reckon with their own traumas following the war. Adam struggles to connect with his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) and kids. Instead, he thinks of a fallen soldier he couldn’t save and that soldier’s grieving wife, Amanda (Amy Schumer), who is friends with Saskia. Meanwhile, Solo copes with an injury that left his brain scrambled. As his wife, Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) becomes pregnant, Solo tries to keep his injury under control.

At first, “Thank You For Your Service” seems to offer little to differentiate itself from other films about PTSD. Early scenes with the trio of servicemen specifically recall the classic coming home film “The Best Years of Our Lives.” However, the most interesting source of conflict comes from the men’s inability to receive aid from the Department of Veteran Affairs. When Adam and Solo go to the VA to receive help, they find it could take six to nine months to get into the mental health treatment centers they require. After fighting for our country, these men came home and were forced to fight the bureaucracy. Many prior movies dealt with the shame of asking for help. This one is able to show the long road for those who do ask for help.

Miles Teller manages yet again to be an engaging and capable lead. He’s able to convey the hurt and anguish in Adam while still letting his original sense of fun peek through. The best moment in Teller’s performance comes from a late visit to a fellow member of his platoon, Michael Emory (Scott Haze). Here we see Teller’s character confront some of his demons from the war. Yet, he still manages to hold onto the same playful camaraderie with his mates he had before. However, the real standout is newcomer Beulah Koale. Solo emerges as the heart and soul of the film. Koale never overplays the disabilities of his character. His skill comes from exposing a strong, wounded man in need of help.

While the men are given dimension and plenty to work with, the women are left somewhat helpless. Haley Bennett plays the same concerned, yet aggravated note, through most of the film. She shines in one particular therapy scene with Teller. However, her Saskia is never able to get a life of her own. Keisha Castle-Hughes works with even less to do, but still walks away with more. Yet, one can only think of what she could’ve done with a role that was more than just a couple of crying scenes. Lastly, Amy Schumer tries her hand at dramatic acting but fails to conjure up any tears. There’s a long history of comedians who have managed to cross over into drama. However, Schumer plays the same slightly out of tone note in each of her small scenes.

For all its good intentions, “Thank You For Your Service” only sometimes rises above serviceable. Writer/director Jason Hall conveys his knowledge and appreciation for the Armed Services at all points. Aside from some stilted and bald moments, the writing has a good handle on the candor and familiarity of a platoon. However, it’s more clear that this is Hall’s first feature. There’s little visual style to the piece. For example, a climactic showdown near the end appears muddled due to strange editing choices and poor lighting. Hall, who also wrote “American Sniper,” shows great interest in the war genre. While he’s stronger in the writing department than directing, it will be interesting to see future projects by him.

“Thank You For Your Service” is distributed by Universal Pictures and opens in theaters on October 27th.

GRADE: (★★★)

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