Thanks to the inherent emotion and drama that comes with it, war will be a subject of film from now until the end of time. It's a fascinating subject both from an historical and psychological perspective, and as a result many different filmmakers have drained themselves executing their own vision of what a war movie should be. As far as originality goes, however, the volume also creates a certain in-genre problem, as stories begin to feel well-worn, regardless of how important they may be on an individual level. It's a hurdle that is definitely faced by writer/director Jason Hall's Thank You For Your Service, and while it is a drawback, the feature ultimately carries itself on the weight of its own significant message.
Based on the true story told in the book of the same name by David Finkel, the film tracks the post-war life of Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), a soldier working to adjust to life after returning home from the Iraq War. Of course, this is far from an easy process -- not only because he has to adjust to living with his family and essentially starting his adult life, but because he is constantly haunted by what he saw while he was overseas. Along with his combat brother Solo (Beulah Koale), who is suffering from memory loss as a result of a head injury during the war, he tries to get help for his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but quickly discovers that the U.S. military does not have the facilities or resources to adequately address and support the mental impact that war has on veterans.
Though both Adam and Solo have people who love and care for them, including their respective wives (Haley Bennett, Keisha Castle-Hughes), their individual traumas persist in being a part of their everyday lives -- triggered by loud sounds and rapid movements, leading to them even seeing hallucinations. The question of whether or not they can actually live normal lives anymore becomes a real one, and with potentially fatal consequences.
As far as the specific details of the drama go, Thank You For Your Service doesn't have a huge emphasis on showing audiences a whole new side of PTSD on film, but instead showcases the reality of what it's like to live with it. There are big dramatic moments motivated by fits of rage and violence; deep expressions of guilt for those who didn't come back in one piece or at all; and very real and chilling demonstrations of the full extent of what can happen if issues are left untreated. And, of course, while these all stand as powerful on their own, it further hits home with the movie's message about the devastating lack of support that soldiers receive once they have finished their tours in the military or are forced to retire because of injuries sustained.
With the narrative not really doing anything unprecedented, the focus shifts to the strength of the characters and the performances, and both Miles Teller and Beulah Koale both deliver powerhouse, affecting turns. In the last seven years, Teller has effectively built up a reputation as one of the strongest young actors currently working in the industry, and his recent run starring in true life inspired stories (including Bleed For This and War Dogs) have very much further cemented that status. As Adam Schumann in Thank You For Your Service, he not only effectively disappears into the part, but elegantly sells the very real torment that is behind his eyes at each moment.
In contrast, the New Zealand-born Beulah Koale is only just starting to see his career blossom, but Thank You For Your Service should be a stepping stone to great things. Solo is a rich and complex character, immensely thankful for his time in service despite the permanent damage he's received, and has to deal with not only PTSD but side effects from his brain injury. All the same, it's a challenge that Koale proves more than up for, as he not only communicates Solo's demons, but also has a fantastic chemistry and bond with Teller.
In the long legacy of war movies, Thank You For Your Service isn't exactly a standout, but it does have its place. It has a significant story to tell -- shining a light on the importance of supporting veterans and the lack of what's available -- and tells it with some powerful imagery and fantastic performances.