Review: 'Thank You For Your Service', A Respectable If Uninspired Look At PTSD

You're probably going to hear a lot that Thank You For Your Service is a well-meaning, respectful movie about the sacrifices made by our men (no women in this case, oddly) in the military. And it's true; the directorial debut by American Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall continues his dignified exploration of the struggles servicemen face upon their return home from war. The most effective scenes in American Sniper dealt with that side of it, so it's no surprise Hall's interest in it once again. And while the film is successful in capturing the hopelessness and bureaucracy many soldiers encounter upon their return home, it's also strangely anonymous and forgettable like so many similar movies on the subject.

There were a rash of movies like this soon after the start of the Iraq War (My personal favorite being The Lucky Ones); so many that they all had trouble being distinct. Thank You For Your Service suffers from the same problem, which is a shame because years have gone, times have changed and should allow for a different level of reflection. That said, the predictable problems these returning soldiers face are still heartbreaking, and made even more disturbing because we can see them coming.

Miles Teller is army sergeant Adam Schumann, who returns home from Iraq along with two of his GI pals, Will Waller (Joe Cole) and Tausolo "Solo" Aeiti (Beulah Koale) after multiple tours, each more intense and longer than the last. All three have troubles adjusting, with PTSD just a part of everyday life for them now. Will, who has been "blown up" multiple times, hopes to come home to a waiting fiancĂ©, but finds their home empty and her long gone. Solo, a prideful Samoan who has had his brain scrambled, struggles with living up to the expectations of his pregnant girlfriend (Keisha Castle-Hughes), while hoping to re-enlist into the military he believes saved his life. Adam has the benefit of returning home to an established family, barely held together by his devoted and understanding wife Saskia (Haley Bennett).

Of the three, Adam seems to have his jarhead screwed on tightest, but only just. He continues to have flashbacks to a devastating ambush, teased in the prelude, in which he played a part in a fellow soldier's traumatic injury. Another soldier who didn't survive is also a source of painful memories, made worse by his wife (Amy Schumer, strong in her first major dramatic role) being a close friend of the family. It becomes clear that all of these warriors need help, but getting it is where the real horror show begins.

Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and for a time the film becomes almost too depressing to bear. Attempts to find work are fruitless; getting their military benefits and psychological therapy are met with delays or, worse, complete indifference. And the military's notions of warrior strength don't help, practically encouraging these men to deny help because it would be "bad for morale." In one shocking, but apparently true scene, a commanding officer callously buys steaks online while Solo practically pleads for assistance in getting his benefits. There are the expected impacts on the soldiers' loved ones, a descent into drugs, and yes, suicide.

I guess the problem is that all of these individual accounts are like checking off boxes, but provide little actual insight. Separately there are devastating moments but put as a whole Thank You For Your Service never grips in the way it should. That's despite what should be a breakout performance by Koale, shining in a gut-wrenching, mournful performance as Solo. Teller is solid in his second role as a serviceman in a week (the other being in Only the Brave), and he's best at the little bits of humor that occasionally trickle out. There aren't a ton of laughs to be found here, but there are a few, and the best ones are surprisingly between Teller and Bennett. "You think I could kill myself with a tank?", Adam asks at one point when its suggested he take a job at a heavy ordinance range, a terrible idea considering his suicidal mental state. "You're very resourceful", Saskia shoots back. One of the strengths of Hall's script is showing how those little moments of happiness can mean literally everything.

Thank You For Your Service is based on a non-fiction book, much like American Sniper (Only more honest, hopefully), so knocking it for being too familiar probably isn't fair. But what about not really adding anything to the discussion on the welfare of our most cherished veterans, or of the War on Terror that has destroyed so many young lives? While some will be perfectly content that it doesn't stake out a position on hot-button issues regarding the military, it makes for a film that is merely serviceable.

Rating: 3 out of 5