“Thank You for Your Service” is the newest war movie to examine PTSD. It is based on the nonfiction book by journalist David Finkel. Finkel’s book was a sequel to his “The Good Soldiers” in which he wrote about the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment’s deployment in Iraq in 2007-8. The sequel deals with the readjustment of the men to life back in America. It is telling that Hollywood decided to make a movie out of that book instead of his book about combat deployment during the Surge. I suppose there is more drama in PTSD than in combat. The movie was directed and written by Jason Hall. He had written the Academy Award nominated script for “American Sniper”. This movie is his directorial debut.
The movie opens with the spongy “Inspired by a true story”. A squad gets ambushed in an Iraqi city. One of the men is shot in the head by a sniper. Staff Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller) drops the body on his way down the stairs. That’s got to have a lasting mental effect. The unit is returned home not long after the incident. Schumann’s weapon is checked in by a soldier played by the real Schumann in a cameo. He is confronted by a war widow (Amy Schumer) who wants to know the circumstances of her husband’s death. Apparently Schumann is going to be tormented by two deaths. The movie focuses on the adjustment of three soldiers. Schumann is readjusting to life with his wife Saskia (Haily Bennett) and young daughter. They are financially challenged and have lost their house. His best buddies are Specialist Tausolo “Solo” Aieti (Beulah Koale) and PFC Billy Walker (Joe Cole). Solo is married without kids. Billy is expecting to get married, but his fiancé is not home when he gets there. Their arcs will intertwine.
Solo is suffering from memory loss. Schumann is suffering from the inability to communicate that he is torn up by the two incidents. They visit the Veterans Hospital in a scene that is mandatory for showing the lack of empathy of the System. Most of the extras waiting interminably in the waiting area are actual veterans. I’m sure they did not have to be instructed how to act in the situation. Solo will have to wait 6-9 months to see a psychiatrist. To add insult to injury, Schumann ex-CO basically calls him a pussy for being there. “Don’t fold like this.” This is a tipping point for Adam and Solo. Each takes a typical PTSD Hollywood path. One will have to confront his demons and the other will get in bed with demons.
“Thank You for Your Service” is a sincere effort to cover the effects of PTSD on veterans. It does not break new ground on this topic, but it is entertaining and I will assume not everyone has seen numerous movies on this topic. If this will be your first one, you could do worse. Like “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”. Although the scenarios depicted in the movie are not really original, some of the dots that are connected are unpredictable. The movie is not heavy-handed. There is a fairly subtle use of a wounded pit bull as symbolic of wounded veterans. We are reminded of the crass treatment of vets, but not bludgeoned by it. The movie assumes the audience already knows about the flaws in the system. This movie is not “Born on the Fourth of July” or “Coming Home”. But it does make it clear we have not improved much from the Vietnam era. In an interesting discussion, Adam and Solo debate whether it is better to be wounded physically (like Ron Kovic) or mentally (like Adam and Solo). Solo argues that an amputation at least results in medals and hero status.
The movie reminded me a little of an Afternoon Special for adults. This week’s film is on PTSD. Three besties deal with the stress of war and readjusting to their families. The movie has the pat ending of one of those specials, but it is definitely a worthy effort and just as informative. The acting is very good. Teller anchors the film as the stoically tortured Schumann. His interaction with his wife (Bennett) feels authentic, albeit deja-vuish. Koale matches him as the stereotypical vet who goes over to the dark side. You care about these comrades. You may look back at the movie and realize you had seen all of it before, but while you are watching it, you will be drawn into their story.