FILM REVIEW – THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. With Haley Bennett, Miles Teller, Beulah Koale, Amy Schumer, Keisha Castle-Hughes. Written by and directed by Jason Hall. Rated R for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity. 108 minutes.
There’s an important story to be told in THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, but this dramatic adaptation of the book by David Finkel may not have been the best way to tell it. We may make a show of respect for our veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – see the bogus huffing and puffing over respectful protests during the playing of the national anthem – but we don’t really mean it. Consider that one of the most powerful statements here are not the actual and attempted suicides by veterans overwhelmed by their return to civilian life, but the bureaucracy and indifference facing them at the Veteran’s Administration. Even the people trying to make it work have to cope with the lack of sufficient funding or staffing, which speaks volumes about our actual priorities.
The movie tells the stories of several returning veterans, but focuses on two: Adam Schumann (Miles Teller) and Solo (Beulah Koale). Schumann returns home wracked by guilt. He feels responsible for the death of one soldier and injuries to another and sees his family in financial straits because of his inability to get a job in civilian life. Meanwhile Solo, who hails from American Samoa, feels the Army saved his life and doesn’t want to leave the service, but is discharged because of brain injuries he’s suffered.
In a documentary, these could be compelling stories. However, in a conventional Hollywood drama – which is what this is – it falls into cliché and convention. Thus Solo, whose condition remains untreated while awaiting an opening in a VA program, gets increasingly irrational and violent. He falls in with a bad crowd and makes some money delivering illegal goods for them. You just know this is going to turn out bad, and the coincidences and contrivances, even if true, come across as simply bad plotting.
Schumann’s story gets the most screen time as he tries to reintegrate himself into family life with his wife (Haley Bennett in a sympathetic performance) and two children, but he has to wrestle with his own demons. Here, again, the resolution is too pat and convenient. It doesn’t help that Teller is a bit bland as Schumann, so that his anger and frustration lacks the power it might otherwise have had.
Writer Jason Hall, who previously adapted the far better “American Sniper,” makes his directorial debut here. He obviously cares for the stories of the men depicted, but it isn’t enough to make “Thank You for Your Service” a compelling film. If this can get Congress to pay attention to really supporting our vets instead of just offering lip service, that will be all to the good, but more likely this movie represents a missed opportunity to get the message out.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.