The general perception is that when soldiers come home from Iraq, their problems instantly vanish-but that’s simply not the case. The enemy may no longer be planting IEDs for them to drive over or firing bullets at their heads, but the memories of war never truly leave the psyche.
Jason Hall’s directorial debut, Thank You for Your Service, is a powerful character study on the long-term effects of war on a human mind. This is the first honest portrayal of a soldier’s life at home after the war. With only two scenes taking place in Iraq, Hall’s film centers on the return to civilian life, and the result is an experience that should help real life veterans.
The film was inspired by a true story, centering on Adam Schumann (Miles Teller) and Solo (breakout star, Beulah Koale), two soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder in varying ways. Schumann can’t open up to his wife, Saskia (Haley Bennett), about the war and struggles to slip back into the life of a family man. Solo’s mind is scrambled to the point of certain things all together falling from his memory. Hall’s film follows these men in the months following their return from a tour.
Teller delivers another exceptional performance as a man who can’t shake an incident that cost the life of another soldier and effected another man’s life. Similar to Jake Gyllenhaal, Teller is able to crawl inside any character in his wake, whether it’s a classically talented drummer (Whiplash), boxer (Bleed for This), or tormented soldier. He chooses projects nearly as wisely as Leonardo DiCaprio, and gives Thank You for Your Service the balancing power it needs.
The real out of nowhere talent emerge here belongs is Koale as Specialist Solo. The actor has only been in a handful of small films and television shows, but Solo gives Koale plenty of room to run around in. It’s not just the way that he reads a line of dialogue. Koale paints a portrait of a man addicted to war, but worried about the possibility of his ability to register the simplest of things in older age. It’s a heartbreaking performance. A large strong man slowly coming apart on the inside, like a board of checkers falling off the table one by one. He holds his own with Teller in their many scenes together.
Bennett and Keisha Castle-Hughes are strong as the suffering women in these men’s lives and Joe Cole puts in good work early on as another soldier facing a tidal wave of change once he arrives back home. While she is distracting at first, Amy Schumer fares better as her small amount of screen time unfolds.
The real star here is Hall, who wrote the film as well as handling the directing duties. After cutting his teeth on the Oscar nominated American Sniper, the part time actor/TV show writer sticks to his sweet spot here, telling an important story about the rigors that are placed in every home of a returning soldier. The movie carries a nonchalant restraint to the heaviest of scenes and the melodrama thankfully never appears near the end of the film.
Thomas Newman’s score is potent and the pacing is just right. Thank You for Your Service doesn’t overstay its welcome, earning your trust with first with honesty and backing that up with lived-in performances.
One of the most heartwarming sights is seeing a soldier surprise their kids or wife on a baseball field or in a school. It’s an attention grabber on television or on social media and rightfully so. But I’ve always wondered what that man or woman is going through privately in their head. What is possibly suturing their minds as they return to an ordinary life?
For the first time in cinema, Jason Hall has provided a glimpse into that process.
Thank You for Your Service is a timely and powerfully moving film. I urge you to go see it with an open mind.