Thank You for Your Service (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): Coming home from a war

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“Thank You for Your Service” is another war drama film associated with the second Iraq War, but it has an engaging story to interest us. Mainly focusing on the aftermath of what its main characters went through, the movie is often harrowing and gut-wrenching in its intimate depiction of their hard struggles with their psychological damages, and we come to be reminded of that unavoidable human cost in wars as observing their rocky emotional journey.

After the tense, gritty opening sequence which shows a group of American soldiers being suddenly ambushed by enemies during their mission in Iraq, 2007, the movie moves forward to when three of these soldiers are coming back to their country some time later. They are Adam Shumann (Miles Teller), Billy Waller (Joe Cole), and Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Koale), and we get to know a bit about them as watching them casually banter with each other. While Shumann has a wife and two kids waiting for him, Aieti is also a married man, and Waller is eagerly looking forward to seeing his fiancée again and then marrying her.

When they and other soldiers arrive in an airport, they are welcomed by many people including Shumann’s wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) and Aieti’s wife Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes), but Waller’s fiancée does not come, and Waller becomes more flabbergasted when he later finds that his fiancée left his residence along with her daughter. Although he gets some consolation from Shumann and Aieti, Waller still feels glum and depressed as he has lost something he has lived for, and that leads to an irreversible tragedy when he decides to confront his fiancée.

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While shocked and saddened by what happened to their dear friend, Shumann and Aieti soon find themselves struggling with each own emotional matter resulted from their traumatic combat experiences. Shumann has felt guilty about how he inadvertently hurt his seriously injured comrade during that battle shown at the beginning of the movie, and he also is quite morose about the death of his direct commander, which happened not long after that traumatic battle. With his understanding wife and their loving kids, he tries to move onto the next stage of his life, but he is often moody and distant as aimlessly going through his uneventful days, and his wife certainly becomes more concerned about him.

In case of Aieti, he wants to go back to Iraq, but he is rejected due to his seriously damaged physical condition, and his wife wants him to stay with her as she gets pregnant. He mostly looks fine on the surface, but he occasionally suffers from memory loss caused by a brain injury he sustained during a terrible incident which has haunted his mind, and it is pretty clear to us that he is suffering from a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As things become more difficult for both of them, Shumann and Aieti decide to try to get some help from Department of Veterans Affairs, but, not so surprisingly, they become frustrated to see that they will have to wait for a long time just like countless war veterans seeking help for the same reason. While Shumann manages to have a meeting with a counselor, Aieti faces an absurd bureaucratic problem, and he gets further frustrated while also being slowly being drawn to his old criminal life before his military years. For dealing with his worsening PTSD, he comes to look for drug outside, and that is how he later gets involved with a local criminal who understands him as a war veteran.

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While its third act becomes a little too dramatic as Aieti and Shumann are pushed further into each own desperation, the adapted screenplay by director Jason Hall, which is based on the non-fiction novel of the same name by David Finkel, steadily maintains its calm attitude as generating several poignant moments such as when Shumman eventually visits Emory (Scott Haze), that seriously injured comrade who fortunately survived in the end. Shumman is understandably awkward at first, but then he feels a bit better as spending some nice time with Emory, and he later comes to meet the widow of his direct commander for letting out his regret and guilt over that unfortunate death of his direct commander.

Under Hall’s unadorned direction, the main performers in the film give earnest performances while never overstating their characters’ emotional states. Miles Teller, who has been one of the most promising talented performers since his breakout turns in “The Spectacular Now” (2013) and “Whiplash” (2014), subtly conveys to us his character’s inner turmoil via his nuanced performance, and he is especially wonderful when his character tries to look fine in front of his wife despite what is being churned inside his increasingly unstable mind. Holding his own place well beside Teller, New Zealand actor Beulah Koale gives an equally solid performance to remember, and he and Teller are supported well by other performers in the film including Joe Cole, Haley Bennett, Haley Bennett, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Scott Haze, and Amy Schummer, who is surprisingly effective in her small supporting role while looking as serious as required.

Although I do not think it reaches up to the level of “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) and “Coming Home” (1978), “Thank You for Your Service” is still a commendable movie about war veterans, and I admire the considerable honesty and sincerity in its storytelling and performance. It is a shame that the movie did not draw much attention when it came out in last year, and I hope it will get more appreciation in the future.

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