I'm gradually finding myself headed towards the vein of crankly old when it comes to movies and to the new cinema stars of today. So when I see Miles Teller (Get a Job) try to take on heftier fare, I'm curious to see how he (and others of his ilk) will do at those kind of things.
Thank You For Your Service was based on a book written by David Finkel, adapted into a screenplay and directed by Jason Hall (American Sniper), Teller plays Adam Schumann, a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant on tour in 2007 Iraq, who is returning home (along with several of his friends) following a tour that ended in the loss of lives. The film follows Schumann's life back home, along with Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Koale, One Thousand Ropes), Billy Waller (Joe Cole, Green Room) and Michael Emory (Scott Haze, Midnight Special), as they return to life in Fort Riley, Kansas. Or at least something close to it, as we've learned both in real-life and the movies, coming home to a place that doesn't feel like home when these boys have gone through what they have is confusing and traumatic.
The biggest hurdle to clear for me when it comes to films like Thank You For Your Service is the genuine feeling and intent in the story and those telling it. The battle sequence in the opening scenes of the film is designed to set up the rest of the film, and Teller and the ensemble put it together well. There is a powerful shared experience that soldiers have when they're not in combat, and the distance they choose to have sometimes is understandable, and events come off as natural a lot of the time. Tragedy befalls the group early on, perhaps as a reminder that events in Iraq should be in the back of their mind, which perhaps may have been an unnecessary choice to make, but one that I could roll with because it's soon overtaken by the problems the remaining members have at home in various contexts.
Hall keeps the characters' journeys through this stress modestly rooted for the most part of the film; basically they're unsure how to communicate what is going on with them, so it's either internalized, as Teller's character does for example, or it's handled by other means, as Koale's does. These are logical to the story because a lot of soldiers do these things when they're home, for better for worse. The spouses of each try to help how they can; Tausolo's pregnant wife is played by Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) who provides a solid turn, particularly in one scene when she asks her husband some questions about his feelings about his life and his time in the Army. Schumann's wife is played by Haley Bennett (The Girl on the Train), who welcomes him home with his new baby, their second, and a presumed rosy outlook on life. As she learns more about Adam's problems, and his suppressing them, she does what she can to help, but Adam learns he has to help himself or even help others along the way. There is a moment or two of cinematic implausibility for my tastes in the third act but given the rest of the way the story went it was enough to give them a pass.
I think Thank You For Your Service could have made the easy choice in playing things more sensationalist, but in going straightforward in their storytelling, combined with convincing performances by everyone involved, it turns out to be a pleasant surprise of a film about a sobering aspect of the war. Teller's performance is complex and multidimensional and he's proving to be a well-rounded actor who doesn't hesitate to take on a challenging role physically or mentally and that's to his credit, and hope he takes on more films with demanding material to broaden even further.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Universal's 2.40:1 high-definition presentation of the movie is solid. The film leans towards a grayer palette than I would have expected, and the colors that are present look OK. Black levels are consistent (there are a few scenes that happen at night and the contrast is very good), image detail is good in facial textures or the scuffs on a weapon. It's not reference quality but does prove to be a very good transfer of a good movie.The Sound:
There's a DTS-HD 7.1 track which does enough work, given the source material. There isn't much for the film to do, though when it does handle the firefight sequences in Iraq the low-end gets ample room to stretch out, and channel panning/directional effects put you in the midst of the battle. In moment of mild action like when the drug dealer is chasing Tausolo, the idle of the SUV rumbles through the room as gunshot ring out. Dialogue is up to the task as well in quieter scenes. It's quietly capable listening material.Extras:
"Staging a War" (12:20) is a making of on the film, which includes thoughts from the cast and crew on the story, the larger themes and using veterans in many of the scenes. "The Battle at Home" looks at the personal quest and the memories from some of those portrayed in the film. There's also a standard definition disc and digital copy.Final Thoughts:
Thank You For Your Service is one of those films that you have a high-level inkling about what the film's about, and then when you get done watching it, you're impressed, by the story, the performances and their authenticity. As a former military guy a few years removed I related to some of those experiences and they were handled just right. The overwhelming feeling I got out of the film is consistent across the technical aspects as well; fairly impressive, well-acted, felt like it utilized the most that it could with its assets. Definitely worth checking out.