By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
You can’t help but compare Jason Hall’s last script, American Sniper to his present one, and directorial debut, Thank You for Your Service.
Although Miles Teller probably doesn’t get mistaken for Bradley Cooper terribly often.
Both films explore the emotional and mental toll wartime has on our servicemen, but refreshingly there’s no change Thank You for Your Service will be mistaken as a nationalist chest-thumper like American Sniper was by many. No, this film is entirely about the home front, as three soldiers (Miles Teller, Beulah Koale, and Joe Cole) return from Iraq to varying degrees of familial support but the same Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which surfaces in the men in unpredictable and varied ways.
In order for a film like Thank You for Your Service to have the impact that it should, it’s absolutely essential that the audience quickly bonds with and invests in the emotions of its leads. A film spent talking about feelings and traumas that are only shown in flashbacks requires an audience that is even more interested in those feelings than they are the wartime action that created them.
Otherwise, you get this.
Teller, Koale, and Cole are able to quickly and effectively display their immutable brotherhood and build rapport with the audience so that when their domestic lives begin to be subsumed by PTSD our hearts are torn right along with their families’. Teller yet again demonstrates his ability to be entirely inhabited by his characters, playing in some ways the toughest role- the Sergeant who has to be strong for his comrades and his superiors, the man who takes care of others, not the man who needs to be taken care of, no matter how much that may not be true.
It’s Koale, though, who steals the screen as a man from a tough background who will tell anyone who listens that “the Army saved my life”, but who’s memory has been affected to a startling degree an IED explosion. While it’s Koale’s first role, unless he’s actually an Iraq veteran suffering from crippling PTSD and memory loss, he deserves a place in the Best Supporting Actor conversation. He just is his character, and through his eyes we see the confusion and betrayal that our finest returning home from wartime too often justifiably feel.
Jason Hall does not shy away from the cliches you’d expect from this type of film, from the almost cartoonishly callous superiors to the pitbull Koale saves after it was discarded to die post-dogfight to the flirting with a life of crime subplot to the melodramatic “Just live your life. That’s how you honor him” at the end. These actors and Hall’s generally excellent instincts for naturalistic scene-setting and incidental dialogue save the film from wallowing in that cliche, but it definitely pops up here and there.
Amy Schumer, yes, that Amy Schumer, is entrusted with delivering that final cathartic line, but she shouldn’t have been. Died brown hair and a lack of makeup do not a dramatic actress make, and while it’s always nice to see comedic superstars try their hand at something different, she’s not playing at the level of her castmates here yet, and it shows, badly.
Thank You For Your Service often takes the conventional path, but ends up an affecting and rousing portrait of those who have given so much.
Last Call: In many ways, the most surprising and affecting element of the film is the immediate pre-credits scrawl.
Thank You For Your Service (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever somebody acts callous towards a soldier
Take a Drink: for every flashback or hallucination
Take a Drink: for every mention of drugs
Take a Drink: whenever you see a gun
Take a Drink: whenever anyone mentions suicide
Do a Shot: for every single Amy Schumer scene