‘Thank You for Your Service’ is well-intended, yet flawed film


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“Thank you for your Service”

Twenty-two veterans kill themselves every day. It’s a startling fact, one that illuminates the anguish present for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan that often goes unnoticed in civilian life. “Thank You for Your Service,” the latest film from Jason Hall, the writer of American Sniper, tries to shed some much-needed light on this prevalent issue, but some lackluster writing and structural issues hinder its potential. It is a well-intentioned, but ultimately fractured and flawed film.

“Thank You for Your Service” is an adaptation of the 2013 book of the same name that follows three veterans as they return from active-duty in the Middle East. These soldiers are all facing their own personal struggles, but the lion’s share of the film is focused on Adam Schumann, a sergeant returning to his wife and two kids in Kansas.

Schumann suffers from PTSD because of a series of harrowing incidents in Iraq, and his return home is defined and scarred by these traumatic episodes. However, he’s not alone. He returns with two other men in his unit, Solo and Waller who are also suffering from their own private torment. This loose ensemble is aptly portrayed by Miles Teller, Beulah Koale and Joe Cole, but its Miles Teller in his portrayal of Schumann who really puts the film on his shoulders.

Their return home is marked by governmental bureaucracy and wives who don’t understand them, children who have grown up without them and a world that proceeded in their absence, apparently with no surprise. There’s an idea that after a certain amount of time in a closeted social environment, one would become inhospitable to normal society. I imagine that’s what returning from war is like — a prison with no bars or walls to keep you.

As time marches on, these men begin to unravel as normal life becomes unbearable. Flashbacks, hallucinations and full mental breakdowns are depicted as the film becomes a hall of horrors for the audience, showing these men pushed to their mental limit. The film should be commended for its unflinching and honest representation of PTSD, for it has the courage to keep the camera rolling on the image when lesser films would have turned away. However, for every powerful image and scene, there’s a character or moment that over-explains and lessens the impact.

Characters become mouthpieces for the writer/director, and the striking images the director conjures become attached to a character’s diatribe against a system that fails them. Instead of letting the audience fully experience the moments these characters go through, they’re told what to feel, and no matter how correct that “feeling” may be, the narrative is weakened as a result.

In addition, the film is quickly divided into two parts; one for Schumann and one for Solo. While this is reminiscent of the book’s structure, the film doesn’t have nearly the amount of time the book is offered. Because of this, the film’s good intentions at constructing a complex and detailed diorama of these soldier’s lives is halved. Either of these soldier’s stories is worth a whole film in of itself, and by deciding to split the focus, the thematic intent is split as well. Sequences are cross-cut in loose and seemingly unrelated ways, with characters just dropping in and out of the narrative to fit the director’s motive. Furthermore, Solo’s storyline (whether based on his real-life experiences or not) rapidly falls into the realm of cliché. I understand it’s impossible to change Solo’s actual experiences, but for the purposes of the narrative, print the legend.

There have been countless films about war, but very few about the personal aftermath it wreaks on the soldiers who are present for it. Often, films depict the battles themselves, or the political players that lead to a war’s inception. “Thank You for Your Service” attempts to shed some much-needed light on what happens to soldiers the second time they step into unknown territory, but it makes some critical missteps along the way that end up hamstringing its full impact.