MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Jason Hall. Starring Miles Teller, Haley Bennett.
“Thank you for your service.” These are words familiar to most men and women in uniform when stateside, words of gratitude for faithful service to our country. But there is also the undertone of appreciation that these women and men have put themselves in harm’s way (and risked their lives) so that the rest of us could remain safe at home.
Journalist David Finkel’s 2013 bestseller (on which this film is based) told the story of fellow infantrymen returning home after serving together during the Iraq War surge of 2007-2008. Finkel was embedded with their battalion at the time and wrote an earlier book (The Good Soldiers) about that experience. What Finkel discovered was that the aftershocks of active service – primarily Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSD) but also physical injury – can last forever. And our grateful nation is not prepared, equipped or funded to meet the needs of our vets.
This movie is filled with strong performances, beginning with Miles Teller as Sergeant Adam Schumann, a decent man with a loving and supportive wife (Bennett), who willingly cared for the men under his command but does not reckon with the collateral emotional damage that will follow him home. Tausolo (“Solo”) Aieti (Beulah Koale), an American Samoan, found meaning and purpose in the military but is adrift when considering what to do next with his life as he struggles with memory loss. Will Waller (Joe Cole) lives for the day when he can return to his fiancée, only to find that she has moved on without him.
All three men must deal with survivors’ guilt after surviving an ambush in which one soldier died and another was paralyzed. There is an underlying sadness in this film, but also scenes of friendship, and the love received from spouses and children. There is one effective scene in which we are shown the bureaucracy and the overwhelming caseloads of the Veteran’s Administration, but the film refrains from outright anger concerning these injustices. It is what it is. (I suspect that the filmmakers wanted the cooperation from the military in order to tell this story with authenticity.)
While the language, violence and sexual themes make the film inappropriate for young viewers, Thank You for Your Service is an excellent film for discussion. It is never enough to simply say “thank you”. We should all be concerned about providing care, support, and employment for those returning home from active service.
There is nothing particularly showy or cinematically impressive about Thank You for Your Service but in its willingness to show us regular people struggling to create new possibilities in the midst of real pain, and its wisdom in avoiding platitudes and speechifying, it leaves a lasting impression. This is a film well worth your time and attention.
Four halos: A compassionate film about vets returning home from active service and the reverberations of war that follow them home.
Three pitchforks: Brutal scenes of war violence; pervasive swearing; scenes of marital lovemaking; a violent death; alcoholism and drug abuse.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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