“THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE” — 3 stars — Haley Bennett, Miles Teller, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Amy Schumer, Beulah Koale, Joe Cole; R (strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity); in general release
Based on the book by David Finkel, director Jason Hall’s emotional “Thank You for Your Service” follows a group of Iraq War veterans as they return from duty and cope with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Miles Teller plays Sgt. Adam Schumann, the eyes and ears of his patrol as they make their way through dangerous streets watching for roadside bombs. After a harrowing opening sequence that sees Schumann’s team ambushed in a tragic firefight, we skip ahead to the end of Schumann’s tour, as he returns home flanked by two of his best friends (Solo Aeiti, played by Beulah Koale, and Will Waller, played by Joe Cole).
The trio returns to very different circumstances. Schumann returns to his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) and sets about finding a job that will support his family. Saskia balks when he suggests stopping by the local golf course to see if they need greens keepers.
Solo’s wife Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) wants to start a family, and she gets pregnant right away. But Waller returns home to an empty apartment, vacated by his now former fiancée.
All three feel drawn back to duty, where they felt valued and needed, but that’s only the start of their problems. As they feel the oncoming effects of PTSD, tensions and hallucinations rise, and when Waller can’t persuade his former fiancée to reconcile, he confronts her at her bank teller job and kills himself in front of her.
Adam and Solo recognize that something is very wrong with them also, but when they seek out help from the local VA hospital, they get lost in bureaucratic red tape. Frustrations mount as each man’s condition worsens. Solo starts running with a dangerous crowd, taking a sketchy job for a small-time arms dealer (Omar J. Dorsey), and even Schumann, who is the anchor among his men, feels things slipping out of his control.
“Thank You for Your Service” comes from first-time director Jason Hall, who also adapted the “American Sniper” novel for Clint Eastwood’s 2014 film. Over the course of 108 minutes, Hall’s film paints a vivid portrait of his veterans, showing their loyal brotherhood, their desperate struggles and the not-always-obvious reality that the military veterans we frequently dismiss with a token “hero” label are very young men who often struggle to come home to an unkind adulthood.
Interestingly, this is the second such role for Teller in recent weeks. In a film released earlier this month, Teller portrayed another real-life young man cast in a public hero role in “Only the Brave,” about the Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters. But where “Only the Brave” showed Brendan McDonough’s broad arc from recovering drug addict to elite wild land firefighter, “Thank You for Your Service” keeps Teller at more of an even keel, trying to hold onto his nerve — and his family — while wrestling with his demons.
At times, “Thank You for Your Service” feels very bleak, and it points a harsh finger at the systems it sees as failing our veterans. But Hall’s film also leaves a thread of hope that should leave audiences thoughtful and help veterans feel heard.
“Thank You for Your Service” is rated R for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity; running time: 108 minutes.