The Long Way Back: ‘Thank You for Your Service’ Hits Home

Courtesy of Reliance Entertainment

“If you were so fed up, why didn’t you say anything?” This question, which Saskia Schumann (Haley Bennett) asks her veteran husband Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), best sums up the film “Thank You for Your Service.” In his first directing effort, Jason Hall (writer of “American Sniper”) sheds light on the struggles that soldiers face when they return home from war. The film, “Thank You for Your Service,” which is based on David Finkel’s novel of the same name, tells the true story of Adam Schumann and his brothers, infantrymen serving during the Iraq War. While the film occasionally lulls, Hall skillfully relays an important message about our veterans through remarkable performances and a compelling storyline.

As the film begins, we are introduced to Sergeant Adam Schumann (Teller), Tausolo Aeiti (Beulah Koale), Will Waller (Joe Cole) and Michael Emory (Scott Haze), four soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment. The men return to the United States from Iraq in 2007 only to face new battles at home. Adam is unable to connect with his wife Saskia; Tausolo struggles with memory loss; Will suffers from depression after surviving multiple explosions; and Michael copes with a near-fatal bullet wound to the brain that paralyzed his legs. Each soldier deals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in different ways and seeks help, but soon realizes that help is not easily accessible.

The film features extraordinary performances. Teller (“The Spectacular Now,” “Whiplash”) puts on an excellent performance as Adam. He is adept at playing an everyman, and we root for Adam as we witness his spiral into depression. While it is hard to relate to veterans unless you have gone through their tribulations, Teller does his best to display their struggle so the audience can understand. He exhibits the helplessness that Adam goes through as he clashes with his wife and kids.

Bennett (“The Girl on the Train,” “The Magnificent Seven”) has remarkable chemistry with Teller, especially as she conveys Saskia’s struggles as she tries to support her husband. While Saskia acknowledges the trauma her husband is facing, she needs him to be in good health to keep their family afloat both financially and emotionally. Thus we see Saskia’s desperation to hold on to her husband as she loses touch with him, though she remains optimistic that things will get better. Bennett exudes love and loyalty as Saskia, managing to be both strong and vulnerable.

The most impressive performance comes from newcomer Koale as Tausolo. Koale fully commits to his role and brilliantly shows Tausolo’s struggle with memory loss through heartbreaking facial expressions and gestures. His commitment to the role is displayed through a powerful portrayal of raw emotions. A scene where his character finally breaks down from the stress and resorts to violence is one of the film’s most striking moments. The anxiety that has been building up inside Tausolo finally bursts, and Koale shows a new, violent dimension to his previously subdued character.

The only disappointment is Amy Schumer as Amanda Doster, the wife of a deceased soldier in Adam’s battalion. Schumer notably leaves her comedic roots but isn’t given enough screentime to make an impression.

While the film could’ve been a depressing deep dive into PTSD, Hall makes sure to include lighthearted moments. In one scene, Adam, Tausolo and Will get drunk at a bar, and start fooling fooling around and dancing. By highlighting the humanity of the soldiers, audience members can relate to them as average characters that they may know personally, which makes watching their free fall even more tragic.

Unlike other war movies, the film puts battle on the backburner and focuses on the domestic lives of veterans. In fact, the actual Iraq campaign is only shown in brief flashbacks at the beginning and end of the film. By zooming in on the personal lives of our protagonists, we get a thorough understanding of the issues they face and how they must be solved. As we see our protagonists rejected by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and left helpless on the streets, it becomes evident that something must be done to help these troubled men.

However, Hall fails to show the plight of female veterans, and aside from a few in the VA, he almost entirely disregards them. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer PTSD, according to a 2015 VA study, and it would have been refreshing if Hall would have represented the women who go through those struggles as well.

Unfortunately, “Thank You For Your Service” is a bit of a slow burn. While PTSD is not an exciting subject, Hall could have utilized more flashbacks to keep the film going. Good acting can only bring a movie so far, and the plot is not always engaging. For example, the subplot about Tausolo’s involvement with a drug gang is a bit of a bore. It removes the audience from the main drama while adding little to Tausolo’s character.

“Thank You For Your Service” is worth a watch if you’re looking for a character drama with a relevant message. Millions of veterans currently roam the streets, and we civilians are ignorant to what they have gone through. We may salute them and thank them for their service, but it means little at most if they are suffering.

As shown in the film, veterans often remain reserved as they struggle to find a way to cope with the aftermath of their experiences in war, but we must seek them out and make sure they are well. Hall crafted his film in hopes of exposing more people to this prevalent problem. He achieves this by disclosing Adam’s story to the world, and hopefully the public will realize that we cannot let men like these — national heroes — suffer in silence.

Grade: B+

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