When the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment's Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller) returns to his home in Topeka, Kansas from Iraq, the first woman to greet him isn't his wife, but a woman he barely knows, Amanda Doster (Amy Schumer), demanding 'tell me how my husband died.' Adam cannot answer her, nor can he explain to Saskia (Haley Bennett, "The Girl on the Train") why the job of a golf course greensman seems adequate after having led twelve men. After losing one and helping another who returned with him, Adam learns that bravery can also mean asking for help in "Thank You for Your Service."
There have been so many movies about soldiers facing whole new battles after returning home, another film on the subject may seem unnecessary. But "Thank You for Your Service" really deserves an audience, its following of the four men we see ambushed in its opening scene offering fresh insights into the behaviors and obstacles facing battle scarred soldiers. Miles Teller, who kicked off his career with remarkable turns in "Rabbit Hole," "Footloose," "The Spectacular Now" and "Whiplash" has been on a downswing of late, but his Adam Schumann performance is a welcome reminder of this young actor's talent.
Schumann, celebrated for his ability to spot IUDs, makes a rare judgement call that leads himself, Will Waller (Jon Cole, "Woodshock"), Tausolo 'Solo' Aeiti (newcomer Beulah Koale) and Michael Adam Emory (Scott Haze, "Midnight Special") into that ambush. When Emory receives what appears to be a fatal shot to the head, Adam drapes the bleeding man over his shoulders and rushes down the stairs. Choking on the wounded man's blood, Adam drops him three steps from the landing, then stares at Emory's blank face in horror. It's a powerful opening and the incident which haunts Adam stateside.
The same three men we see on a commercial flight heading homeward couldn't be more different. They're all upbeat, joking, teasing Will about the girl he plans to marry. The only hint of troubles ahead is Solo's hesitation on the question of reupping. Adam returns to the downmarket ranch he, Saskia and their two children live in to save money while renting their house, cheerily making breakfast for the family. Will returns his and Tracey's (Erin Darke, "Love & Mercy") apartment to find it empty, the electricity turned off, his bank card suspended. Solo turns to Adam for help when the Army tells him his medical record will not allow him to reenlist, his army mates his only comfort.
"American Sniper" writer Jason Hall makes an assured, compassionate directorial debut adapting journalist David Finkel's book. His film is not only a sympathetic account of what these men, some facing mental trauma (Solo, who has severe memory issues, describes his brains as 'scrambled'), others awful physical injuries, face daily, but invites empathy for behavior which otherwise might be viewed as merely dangerous or threatening. The United States Military and the Veterans Administration come under harsh criticism, yet acknowledges those, like VA psychiatrist Linda Sanders (Allison King, "Baby Driver"), whose compassion cuts through red tape. It is shocking, though, to see Schumann recognized in the VA hallway by Colonel Plymouth (Jake Weber, "White House Down"), who tells him not to let the younger men 'see him fold.'
Teller is the picture of assured strength, yet there is always a glimmer of dark uncertainty in his eyes. Bennett is a supportive and loving wife, yet although she recognizes her husband's reticence to share war time experiences it has the unintended consequence of making her expect normalcy. In a strong debut, Koale presents us with a fragile, frightened man. He also has a wonderful woman, Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes, "Whale Rider"), expecting his child, but his inability to get much needed treatment leads him to drug dealer Dante (Omar J. Dorsey, "Selma"), another veteran whose 'favor' involves a dangerous job he's incapable of completing. If Adam is haunted by Emory, Solo is haunted by Doster (Brad Beyer, "42"), whose death he holds Adam accountable for, the one conflict in the two men's relationship.
The film is full of character defining moments, like Saskia's joy of driving too fast, later recalled when Adam confronts his fears by visiting Emory (Scott Haze, "Midnight Special"). A horrific dog fighting scene may be an obvious metaphor for wounded warriors, Solo rescuing an injured pit bull left to die, but in Hall and Koale's hands, it's powerfully moving. A barroom scene with Adam, Will and Solo finds the three dancing maniacally to Haddaway's 'What Is Love,' making the scene which follows all the more shocking.
"Thank You for Your Service" is a much needed reminder of how this country so often fails its veterans. It is also a well crafted, deeply moving film.
Robin did not see this film.
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