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Thank You for Your Service is a deeply respectful and respectable movie about veterans and PTSD. The film stars Miles Teller as Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann who is just returning from Iraq from a traumatic third tour of duty. Having been praised for his unique ability for locating roadside mines, Adam’s last experience in Iraq was seeing a friend shot in the head and him having dropped that friend as he carried him down the steps of a building under fire by terrorists.
The guilt and shame are overwhelming and demonstrate one of the many ways that PTSD can manifest in a soldier. Adam’s two closest friends, Billy Waller (Joe Cole) and Tausolo ‘Solo’ Aieti (Beulah Koale) have their own kinds of PTSD. For Billy, the trauma is waiting back at home where his fiancée has cleared out their apartment and left without telling him. For Solo, he’s suffering from post-concussion syndrome, PTSD with a deep effect on his memory.
PTSD takes so many different forms that it is impossible to come up with one catchall treatment as we find out when Adam and Solo attempt to navigate the Veterans Affairs system and find themselves unable to find help that isn’t weeks or months away. The VA is swamped with PTSD patients whose traumas are manifested in numerous different ways. That there is no cure for PTSD. There’s barely even a proper diagnosis. It’s no wonder our vets are eager to go back to combat; it makes more sense than the bureaucracy waiting back at home.
Thank You For Service never shies away from portraying the hurt and trauma that comes from PTSD and the betrayal soldiers feel after making incredible sacrifices for their country only to spend weeks wrapped in red tape when they go for help. Suicidal ideation is one of many symptoms of PTSD and much of that may simply stem from the hopeless, helpless feeling engendered in waiting in endless VA lines only to buried in paperwork and delays in treatment.
In Iraq, a regimented schedule and a clarity of duty, regardless of the nature of the deployment, at least provides a navigable structure. A soldier doesn’t have time to dwell on what’s wrong with life. They’re too busy protecting themselves and their brothers in arms. Even if the reason for their deployment is nonsense, the duty to protect your friends gives a soldier purpose and drive that doesn’t exist back home and Thank You for Your Service beautifully captures the heartbreaking notion that combat zones can be more comfortable than suburban homes.
Miles Teller continues to grow into one of the most affecting actors working today. He has a rugged boyishness that makes him a perfect foil for deconstructing notions of manliness. Something about Teller’s face and the way he registers physical and emotional trauma is deeply affecting. He is man and boy at once, unformed and adult, charming yet insecure. His talent has an effortless quality to it that draws you and repels you. He could be your best friend or your worst enemy in the same scene.
Thank You for Your Service capitalizes on Teller’s unique qualities as an actor and casts him a role that is sympathetic but never cloying or manipulative. You feel sorry for him and he for himself but he’s never pathetic. He registers his guilt in his eyes at all times, even when he appears joyous. This haunted quality is deeply affecting and is another talent that marks Teller as a future Academy award contender.
Equally affecting is newcomer Beulah Koale, whose sadness is at the heart of Thank You for Your Service. Watching Solo turn from smiling to confused to angry in seconds holds you in rapt attention. Koale’s performance is remarkably compelling, sad and vulnerable, he leaves it all on the screen. I’ve never seen Koale in a movie before but I hope to see much more of him after this incredible performance.
Thank You for Your Service can seem a tad perfunctory in its direction and storytelling. A tad too familiar and sometimes mundane in terms of film technique, but that doesn’t matter as much as the emotions the film evokes. The characters are deeply sympathetic and the performances are as compelling as any performances in any movie I have seen this year.