Thank You For Your Service, the new drama from writer/director Jason Hall, has a title laden with sarcasm. Its patronizing tone becomes more and more apparent as the narrative unfolds. Our central cast of characters (including Miles Teller in a rare understated performance) are a group of young men serving in Iraq in 2007 who are leaving the military (willingly and unwillingly) upon their return from a recent overseas deployment. As they return to a world of indifferent bureaucracy, they can’t obtain psychological treatment or VA benefits, and they can’t find jobs sufficient to support their families. They receive a collective pat on the head from an allegedly grateful nation and are sent out into a civilian world with which they are ill-equipped to cope. Thank you for your service, indeed.
The film wisely avoids giving the audience a human villain. The antagonist is the system itself. Bureaucratic indifference is the enemy, and how do you fight against that? Our young soldiers suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other physical and psychological conditions.
In one brief, but powerful scene, Solo (Beulah Koale) is attempting to obtain documentation proving he was in a transport hit by an IED. His treatment benefits are being withheld because the incident is “not in his file”. His commander commiserates with him … while shopping for steaks online. A soldier with a scrambled brain is just another day at the office in this world. Is it callous indifference? A coping mechanism? Or has his commander’s humanity simply been ground out of him after years of seeing men like Solo grapple with the knowledge that they have been permanently altered by their military service.
Thank You For Your Service avoids the majority of tropes we see in films about warriors returning home from combat. Writer/director Jason Hall chooses not to drape his film in an American flag, cue the mournful trumpets and manipulate his audience. If you find yourself driven to tears, you arrive at that emotion honestly, naturally. The film still feels the need to have an “incident” that is spoken about by all of the characters, but never revealed until its final moments. When the flashback comes, the audience isn’t surprised by the revelation. We suspected as much all along. It’s not a fatal narrative flaw. It’s simply unnecessary. The performances of the young cast are subtle. Big tearful monologues are nowhere to be found. The power of the film is found in its quiet moments and its silences.
Unfortunately, the message behind Thank You For Your Service is not a new one. Director Oliver Stone and Tom Cruise tackled similar issues from the perspective of Vietnam veterans in Born on the Fourth of July (1989). Our nation has consistently ignored the needs of our servicemen and women who have sacrificed so much for a nation that largely ignores their plight. Thank You For Your Service is a compelling update of a story as old as our nation itself.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.