‘Thank You for Your Service’ effectively offers a rare look at soldiers coming home
Directed by: Jason Hall
Written by: Jason Hall, based on the book by David Finkel
Starring: Miles Teller, Beulah Koale, Joe Cole, Haley Bennett, Keisha Castle-Hughes, and Amy Schumer
“Thank You for Your Service” – “How do you remove the shield that the warrior has been given in order to (step) into battle? Taking away that shield is very hard.” – Jason Hall
Writer/director Jason Hall’s Iraq War movie is not a conventional one, because it focuses on soldiers returning home and the adjustments, struggles and churn that present brand new challenges for them. As Hall explained in a recent Phoenix Film Festival interview, in order for the military to turn men and women into warriors, they have to teach them how to be fearless and to charge into harm’s way. When soldiers come home, however, that emotional shell or shield that they have built - through training and combat - is not easily removed.
Additionally, their homes that they originally left now feel different. For the soldiers in “Thank You for Your Service”, their home is Kansas.
Adam (Miles Teller), Solo (Beulah Koale) and Will (Joe Cole) are three young Iraq veterans, who return home and attempt to restart their lives but are hampered and haunted by the emotional, mental scars endured from their time in Iraq. This film carries an introspective, thoughtful weight, with quiet conversations and moments of reflection, as Adam, Solo and Will attempt to transition from a dangerous, violent Middle East arena to making breakfast for children, looking for work and addressing a broken relationship, respectively.
While the men try to cope, Hall includes their families and significant others as equal partners in this after-combat equation. Generally speaking, without any insight into their partners’ experiences overseas, soldiers’ spouses might wrongly assume that a life of normalcy at home is the perfect recipe to dial down from the front lines. For these men, and hundreds of thousands of others who have served/are serving in the military since 9/11 and who suffer from a traumatic event, life is not nearly as easy as walking through the front door, receiving a hug, enjoying a meal, and soundly sleeping.
Adam’s wife, Saskia (Haley Bennett), very quickly understands that her husband is not acting like himself and repeatedly asks him to communicate with her, but he remains mostly silent. Not completely silent, but certainly not forthcoming on the details of his troubles. While at a racetrack and hearing the noisy cars whizzing by as strident, mechanical white noise, Saskia looks for straight talk from Adam. He gives her some sense – through osmosis - of a far away, grizzly encounter, but then gets up, walks to a fence surrounding the track and stares at the masses of steel burning up the concrete. Adam knows that he needs help and solely opening up to his wife will not address the problem. Solo is in worse shape, and with his partner, Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes), carrying their baby, he knows that a comforting, pleasant future existence of family will be impossible, because he feels like a ticking time bomb.
Unfortunately, the clock ticks and ticks and ticks at their local VA, as they wait and wait and wait for help, as the film effectively addresses the current supply/demand issues at veterans’ hospitals. With not enough professionals to see the emotionally-wounded warriors, Adam, Solo and many other vets sit in the lobby, with the very dim hope of counseling actually occurring, and if it does, it could be months down the road. The problem is: their problems exist right now.
Will’s circumstances place him in even more dire straits, but he becomes a secondary character in the film, even though his important screen time greatly impacts the narrative. Adam Schumann and Tausolo ‘Solo’ Aeiti are real life Iraq veterans, and this film is a depiction of their lives, based upon journalist David Finkel’s book of the same name.
On its own, “Thank You for Your Service” is a moving, emotional and difficult journey, but when one recognizes that this movie captures the true stories of these men, it resonates even more. During a screening and Q&A of the film with Hall on Oct. 12 in Tempe, Ariz., one also quickly realizes that the onscreen stories can be universal to any veteran in any branch of service. It is a vitally important movie while clearly demonstrating that taking away that shield is very hard.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.