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Review: Thank You for Your Service (2017)

Thank You for Your Service (2017)

Directed by: Jason Hall

Premise: Based on a true story. Set in 2007, three soldiers return home from the war in Iraq. They struggle to reintegrate into civilian society amid a crumbling economy, an overwhelmed Veterans Affairs administration, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

What Works: Thank You for Your Service is at its best whenever it focuses on the three soldiers played by Miles Teller, Joe Cole, and Beulah Koale. All three of the core actors are very good in this film both individually and as a group. They behave convincingly like young men who have been through combat and there is a shared trauma that binds them together. The movie primarily focuses on Miles Teller’s character who feels guilt for the death of a fallen soldier and another who was paralyzed. Beulah Koale is also impressive. His character has suffered traumatic head injuries that impact his behavior and memory and ultimately his identity. The film’s portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder is very impactful and the picture effectively dramatizes the way combat experiences follow soldiers home from the battlefield. Thank You for Your Service also has some authentic moments between these men and their families. Much of the movie focuses on the marriage between a couple played by Miles Teller and Haley Bennnet and their story captures something unique about veterans. Many of them, and these three characters in particular, joined the military in their late teens and early twenties—a period in their lives when people change dramatically and come into themselves—and then return to spouses and children who have been going on without them. The film captures the gulf that exists between couples as a result of their separation and the struggle to traverse that distance. The title of Thank You for Your Service is deliberately ironic; the phrase is a common utterance but this move portrays veterans’ struggle to get the help that they need and the inadequacy of the services provided by the Veteran’s Administration. In that respect, Thank You for Your Service is one of the more provocative movies to come out of the post-9/11 era in that it unsparingly dramatizes the way our government and American culture in general have failed the very people that we call our heroes.

What Doesn’t: There are a lot of great moments in Thank You for Your Service. The trouble is that those moments don’t entirely come together. The picture comes across as a series of disconnected scenes. There is little sense of one event leading to the next or that the film is working toward a resolution. Thank You for Your Service is partly about survivor’s guilt with Miles Teller’s character obsessing over his role in the death of his comrades. The movie doesn’t tell that story very well due to structure of the narrative. It also suffers from some tonal issues. The movie is rather flat. It doesn’t have a growing sense of tension or desperation on the part of the characters. Most of what is wrong with these men is obvious in the first third of the picture. In that way, Thank You for Your Service undermines its tale of post-traumatic stress. What is unique about PTSD is its invisibility; soldiers are trained to put on a stoic face that conceals the turmoil boiling inside. The moviemakers reveal everything from the outset. The movie also entertains some false hope; post-traumatic stress is like a physical disability in that patients don’t really get cured so much as they learn to live with their condition. Thank You for Your Service entertains a “magic-bullet” solution in which these men will be cured if they just get into the right treatment program. It is a disingenuous element in what is an otherwise honest film.

Bottom Line: Thank You for Your Service is fine but unexceptional viewing. It highlights the challenges of soldiers returning from the wars in the Middle East and our insufficient response to their needs. However, the movie comes up short as a work of drama.

Episode: #674 (November 12, 2017)