Wednesday 7 October 2020

Movie Review: Thank You For Your Service (2017)

A drama about soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Thank You For Your Service is an unblinking exploration of the battle to survive after the shooting stops.

While on a tour of duty in Iraq, Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller) leads his men into an ambush, resulting in a severe injury to soldier Emory (Scott Haze). Another incident results in the death of Sergeant Doster (Brad Beyer). Schumann and his buddies Specialist Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Koale) and Private Billy Waller (Joe Cole) return home suffering from PTSD.

Schumann has support from his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) but still finds it difficult to talk about his war experience. Aieti is prevented from re-enlisting for another tour due to memory loss issues, while his wife Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is eager to start a family. Waller is unable to cope when he learns his girlfriend has abandoned him. Schumann and Aieti realize they need help and reach out to the Veterans Administration, but an underfunded system is slow to provide support, leaving the men vulnerable.

Inspired by a true story covered in David Finkel's book, Thank You For Your Service ventures into the difficult terrain of mental trauma, exposing a system designed to care for visible injuries but inept at supporting troops suffering from psychological damage. Jason Hall wrote the script and directs with admirable honesty, carrying echoes of movies like Brothers and Stop-Loss but delving deeper into the mechanics of a misfiring bureaucracy.

Schumann, Aieti and Waller are soldiers trained to kill and possess a natural aversion to even acknowledge the need for help. They also have varying degrees of family support, providing Hall with latitude to explore connections between family backing and extent of suffering. Waller arrives home to an empty house, his girlfriend having dumped him without the courtesy of a note. Aieti has a partner but she is preoccupied with starting a family. Schumann has a loving wife and two kids, and Saskia is not only strong and available to help, but unambiguously verbalizes her support.

The quest for help builds to a depressing lowlight: Schumann and Aieti come face to face with an overburdened VA system offering, with a straight face, months-long waiting periods to soldiers on the verge of blowing their brains out. Ill-equipped family members have to bear the brunt of propping up wounded warriors, or watch in horror as they disintegrate and threaten to harm the ones they love.

Miles Teller and Beulah Koale effectively convey the poignancy of proud young men groping in the unfamiliar darkness and disorientation within. In a well-written role, Haley Bennett is the stand-out performer, her Saskia not short of frustration but full of awareness and fortitude to navigate her husband's churn.

Thank You For Your Service never sparkles or surprises, nor does it intend to. The mission is a blunt and straightforward exposé of post-combat agony and systemic failure, accomplished with grim proficiency.

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