Thank You for Your Service (Universal Pictures, R)

Based on the non-fiction work by David Finkel, Thank You For Your Service follows United States Army soldiers Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Koale) and Will Waller (Joe Cole) as they return home from Iraq. All three are facing struggles. Schumann feels guilt from an incident in war that affects his relationship with his wife (Haley Bennett) and his children. Aieti is indebted to the military for enhancing his life, but his regret and nightmares strain his relationships. Waller returns to an empty house, wondering where his wife and daughter went. All three deal with the trauma of their time in Iraq, and all three face professional and personal peril as they struggle to deal with their repressed memories.

For writer-director Jason Hall, exploring the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder is nothing new. His most famous credit comes from scripting Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which explored the life of sniper Chris Kyle, both in and out of war. However, that film equally cuts between the war and Kyle’s home life, while Thank You For Your Service his focuses solely on the home life of these men, with war scenes coming in only for the story’s sake. This works in the film’s favor, because it is a unique approach among a number of films that have dealt with the Iraq War and its effects. Hall clearly respects what his characters are going through, and never tries to sugarcoat their experiences. In addition to depicting the home life of the characters, the film serves as an effective critique of the systems that fail them as they seek to adjust to a new life. What helps to paint the pain these men are going through are the production values. Thomas Newman’s score is understated, establishing mood, suspense and grief through minimal instrumentation. The same can be said for Roman Vasyanov’s desaturated, yet effective cinematography, which mirrors the visual style of David Ayer’s films (Vasyanov has worked with Ayer on a few of his films).

The film’s strongest asset is the performances of its talented cast. Teller’s greatest strength is that he always able to elevate an everyman role and is able to find the subtlety in his character’s emotions. His relationship with Bennett is strong, and both have a welcoming, if haunting presence. However, the standout is Koale, who completely disappears into his character’s struggles. He is sympathetic, dangerous and emotionally complex, and pulls off all of these emotions with aplomb, showing the skills of a star in the making.

While there’s a lot of affect on the emotional side of the film, the story veers off into a subplot involving his character that, while honest to life, feels out of place in the grand scheme of what this film is going for. There is also a cameo by someone who is a very jarring presence, and while this talented person’s scenes are few, their presence takes you out of the story.

Thank You for Your Service is an emotionally honest portrayal of PTSD that avoids a traditional Hollywood approach. The talented cast elevates the material with performances that stay true to the human experience, and Hall’s direction keeps the subject matter grounded. | Bill Loellke


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