Thank You for Your Service Movie Review
The best thing about American Sniper finding massive success at the box office is that it finally got Hollywood to start making war movies centered on the still ongoing War on Terror, though none have found the box office success, or level of quality that Clint Eastwood’s war drama did. Some, such as 13 Hours, were mostly good, solid war movies. Others, such as Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, were painful misfires on almost every level.
The best and worst thing that can be said about Thank You for Your Service, is that it’s somewhere in the middle – there are things it absolutely nails, there are a lot more it misses by a country mile, and the result is a tepid, timid war film without much conflict, drama or heart.
Extremely loosely based on the book by David Finkel, Thank You for Your Service follows a group of recently discharged US Army veterans struggling to make the transition back to life as civilians. The book is an absolute masterstroke, one of the first real looks into the struggles many modern veterans have had coming home again, and it’s easy to see why when Dreamworks bought the rights, there was talk of Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis would be attached to the film. What had to potential to be the War on Terror’s answer to The Best Years of Our Lives, instead falls utterly short of it’s potential, giving us a first-time director and Miles Teller struggling with the material.
Most of the movie’s flaws come back to the story structure and the script. Jason Hall, who previously wrote the screenplay for American Sniper, pulls double duty here as director and screenwriter, and if Thank You for Your Service is any sign of things, he wasn’t quite up for the job. While admittedly, Clint Eastwood is a tough act to follow, much less taking over for Spielberg, but so many of the mistakes made here are basic – the pacing is an absolute slog, there isn’t a whiff of tension in the entire movie, even at it’s most “dramatic” moments, and it either misses the mark or doesn’t go far enough in the portrayal of it’s source material.
I really can’t emphasize just how flat and tensionless this film is – this is a movie that contains scenes of war, drug use, PTSD, suicide, attempted suicide, and a character running for his life from a gang, to name but a few, and yet the only scene in the movie that manages to get any sort of visceral reaction is one involving a particularly graphic dog fight. This is a movie whose material should hit home like a hammer, and inspire a range of emotions ranging from shock to horror, and instead, what you mostly are left feeling is boredom.
Usually, a movie can count on it’s cast to elevate the material, but in part due to how the movie is structured, and in part to some of 2017’s worst casting decisions, Thank You for Your Service can’t count on this to save the movie.
Thank You for Your Service focuses almost entirely on two characters, Staff Sergeant Adam Schumann and Specialist Tausolo Aieti, played by Miles Teller and Beaulah Koale respectively, and both actors struggle tremendously to both handle the material they’re given, and more or less carry the entire movie by themselves. Koale at least, I can pin on the material he’s been given, as Aieti’s arc in the movie is all over the place, and he rolls with most of it. Miles Teller on the other hand, drops the ball entirely, largely due to his own performance. His delivery is flat, even in the scenes that call for a measure of emotion or pathos, and he has a forced Southern accent that seems to pop up in every other scene. Thank You for Your Service deals with a lot of material that even a skilled actor may struggle with, and Teller just wasn’t up for the job, much less carrying a war drama mostly on his shoulders.
The supporting cast is something of a mixed bag. Joe Cole and Scott Haze play two other members of the platoon dealing with thier own issues, and handling the material far more capably than either Koale or Teller, which makes it a shame that neither has more than 10 minutes of screentime. Haley Bennett delivers the best performance in the movie as Schumann’s wife, and she easily elevates every scene she’s in – I’m not surprised given she’s a military brat herself.
Worst of the bunch though is Amy Schumer, who in what may go down as one of the worst casting choices of 2017, plays a grieving widow utterly incapable of showing grief, spending almost every second of screentime she’s got smiling like she told another joke about her snatch.
Also, as one of the few film critics evaluating Thank You for Your Service who is also an Army veteran diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I’m actually kind of appalled with how the movie portrays the worst sort of Hollywood stereotypes about vets with PTSD, the ones that should have died out decades ago. The worst thing about this is that American Sniper absolutely nailed how to do it right, yet the same man who wrote that script turns to cliches and melodrama in Thank You for Your Service. American Sniper literally gave me flashbacks in the theater – Thank You for Your Service just made me groan.
There is one hell of a movie waiting to be told, in the thousands of veterans waiting for treatment, struggling to adapt back to life back home, or dealing with the scars of war, both seen and unseen, likely dozens of potentially great movies. Sadly, Thank You for Your Service is not one of those movies, which is an absolute shame given the source material and it’s wasted potential. The book should be read by every voter in America. The movie is as empty as a handshake and a kind word – not awful, but nowhere near enough.