It may have been only a week since we saw him last, but Miles Teller is in theaters again with another stellar performance. This time, the prodigy stars as Adam Schumann, an Iraq vet who leaves the field but not the war in Thank You for Your Service. In this moving biographical drama, Jason Hall, the Oscar-nominated scribe behind American Sniper makes his directorial debut to sturdy result. He hits some bumps along the way, but with a strong cast and a mature handling of delicate subject matter, Thank You for Your Service is an admirable examination of PTSD.
As an adaptation of the non-fiction book by David Finkel, Thank You for Your Service is based on the journalist’s accounts of several soldiers’ experiences both in and out of combat. While in pre-production, an incarnation of the project was considered that eyed Spielberg as director in a reunion with Daniel Day-Lewis, but the studio likely went with Jason Hall due to the popularity and acclaim of American Sniper. One can only feel like we were robbed of a better film, but even so, Hall in collaboration with Teller proves himself more than capable of handling the material.
Thank You for Your Service demonstrates you can take the soldier out of the war, but you can’t take the war out of the soldier when Staff Sergeant Adam Schumann (Teller) comes home from his third tour in Iraq alongside his comrades Solo (Beulah Koale) and Billy (Joe Cole). As they attempt to adjust back into civilian life, the trauma each experienced in the field manifests in unique ways, and progresses to impact their personal lives. When it’s clear their stressors aren’t going away, Adam and Solo seek care, but find little support from the incredibly ill-equipped VA.
After submitting solid work in last week’s Only the Brave, Teller offers a laudable performance as the anguished Adam Schumann. Teller utterly convinces at conveying Adam’s underlying distress as it emerges through the cracks in the facade of a man yearning to be seen as his family’s self-reliant protector. Haley Bennet hits the mark as Adam’s wife Saskia, desperate to help, but frustrated with his stubborn withdrawal. Beulah Koale, best-known for Hawaii Five-0, impresses in his limited acting experience at portraying Solo’s pain in volatile instability.
As a portrait of post-traumatic stress, Thank You for Your Service is thoroughly impactful. Indeed, filmgoers may be misled by Dreamworks’ lighter marketing, which pairs the film’s scarce moments of upbeat dialogue with an inspirational country soundtrack. In reality, Hall’s work is in an unflinching descent into post-war agony. Actual veterans will likely struggle with some of the content in the film. In an age when post-war stress is beginning to gain the attention it deserves, Thank You for Your Service is a powerful tool for educating mainstream audiences.
As stirring as this military picture is, it makes it all the more regrettable when it trips up. Hall impresses in his debut, but he still needs to develop confidence in reservation, a requisite to achieving greatness with content such as this. While his script serves its share of potent exposition with restraint, it relies far too often on explosive beats in the plot to drive its points home. To be fair, the film is based on true accounts, but there are ways to handle execution of incendiary events without depending on their outrageous nature for embellishment.
It’s even more harmful when considering the film’s subject, as male internalization of trauma is a major issue that is explored here. For a drama that stresses the dangers of returning soldiers burying their experiences, Thank You for Your Service spends far too much time in its early scenes depicting the characters speaking openly and directly about what they feel. The film’s major takeaway, that of a veteran’s need to share his story with someone who is willing to listen, is crucial, and this message is inhibited by conflicting material serving only as lazy exposition.
Chris Kyle certainly earned the right to his own movie, but Hall’s over-praised American Sniper broke little new ground, and was merely a conventional, if functional war drama. The shooter’s heroic exploits likely led to that film’s unexpected box office success, but Hall’s casually-paced exploration of hardship in the homeland has failed to generate response among ticket buyers. It’s a shame, because Thank You for Your Service blazes critical thematic territory, bringing light to aid our veterans so desperately need, even if Hall’s artistic merits remain more or less the same.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
Universal Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment and Rahway Road Productions.
Directed by Jason Hall.
Written by Jason Hall, based on Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel.
Starring Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Joe Cole, Amy Schumer, Beulah Koale and Scott Haze.
Released October 27, 2017.