Quick Take: Thank You For Your Service is a stark look at the reality of separating from active military service and the frequently ignored struggles soldiers face. Returning home after time in a combat zone or a state of combat readiness has inherent obstacles that are rarely discussed publicly. Upon mustering out of the armed forces, whether voluntary or in some other way, soldiers are expected to handle whatever problems await them on the home front or trauma they’re left with at the end of their tour(s) of duty essentially on their own. Thank You For Your Service is an emotional look at the people caught up in fallout surrounding this complicated and highly politicized topic.
In keeping with the recent trend of more character-driven military stories, Thank You For Your Service revolves around a group of male US soldiers, Schumann (Miles Teller), Solo (Beulah Koale), and Waller (Joe Cole) as they return from Iraqi in 2007. While this film doesn’t fully meet the ambitious bar it set for itself, it certainly illustrates how often the US fails its servicemen and women once they’re no longer active duty. Thank You For Your Service, tells its story through highly stylized vignettes, timely snapshots of these men’s lives, as they enter the ranks of veterans. It’s an impactful, rollercoaster ride told with effective, and sometimes disturbing, imagery and an upheaval of emotion.
The Details: Director Jason Hall’s screenplay pulls its inspiration – and the details at the heart of this film – from the events in the bestselling novel written by Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter, and author, David Finkel. This is Hall’s directorial debut. His adaptation mainly focuses on these three men and their difficulty with reintegration into civilian life and follows them as they struggle to re-connect with their families. From the outset, this film leaves no doubt that its intention is to spotlight how veterans are frequently subject to inadequate support, conflicting messages from commanding officers, and find reams of paperwork and roadblocks standing between them and being “service connected” in order to access help.
This ensemble cast highlights the various struggles and psychologically dangerous issues soldiers face when integrating back into home life from poor documentation in their service records, job hunting, financial difficulties, living with career-ending injuries, betrayal by loved ones, PTSD, lost time with family members and survivor’s guilt. Hall’s direction moves between each man’s extremely different homecoming experiences to bring the seemingly insurmountable number of barriers to navigating Veteran Affairs to a positive outcome to the forefront.
Beulah Koale’s performance as Solo is incredibly visceral and fully dialed in. His story provides the perfect opening to explore not only the plight of many people who intended to make the military a career. It also is the perfect opening to really expose the inadequacy of the system federal workers must navigate to try to assist veterans. Hall’s touches on the subject and uses implication rather than overtly getting into the grim reality of trying to get help from someone who’s hands are basically tied.
But the significance of more than a few moments Hall chose to focus on would’ve been better served had he incorporated more details that would clue non-military savvy viewers in a bit more. Unless you’ve dealt with military paperwork or a worker at Veteran’s Affairs, it may not seem like any more frustrating than being forced to weight in obscenely long lines at the DMV. While the imagery and director choice do a great job of conveying the message that these men and women are herded from one way to another with little apparent rhyme or reason, it doesn’t truly drive home the consequences of getting to the front of the line only to find out that your service record doesn’t reflect your military career. This is a rarely talked about but frequent issue veterans face. Neither Hall’s script nor direction digs into this issue in a way that really does it any justice. He threw the flag on the play but then didn’t explain the ruling to the crowd before moving on to the penalties so to speak. Where the novel pulled the threads of the various issues at play together to reveal the failings of the military to uphold its obligations to servicemen and women; this film does the emotional work but mostly romanticizes events in such a way that falls short of truly exposing the utter maze of bull veterans must navigate often daily.
Thank You For Your Service is a good starting place for discussions about how veterans are well past the point when due care and respect should be given to hem by the government of this country. It’s a gut-wrenching demonstration of the feelings of camaraderie that persists between servicemen long after soldiers return from combat. But it doesn’t have much more than what we already know to add to the conversation and it could’ve.
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5