Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper from 2014 is one of the best war films ever made, and arguably the best film about modern warfare. The film had great box office success and was nominated for a slew of Oscars, even winning for Sound Editing. One of the nominations it received was for Best Adapted Screenplay, giving writer Jason Hall his first nomination. Playing off the success of American Sniper, Hall returns to write Thank You for Your Service, as well as sitting in the director’s chair for the first time with this film. In just about every way, Thank You for Your Service is trying to be like American Sniper, as you can see from all the advertisements for the film, using the same black-on-white font used by American Sniper, as well as Lone Survivor. Unfortunately, Thank You for Your Service is nowhere near the film American Sniper was, and frankly, isn’t a very good movie at all.
Thank You for Your Service tells the story of three soldiers returning from deployment. The protagonist is Sgt. Adam Schumann, whose life with his wife and two children is tested by his worsening PTSD. Adam’s friend, Solo, also suffers from PTSD, but his manifests itself in memory loss, trying his relationship with his newly pregnant wife. And their friend, Billy, also suffering from PTSD, comes home to find his fiancé has left him alone and without any money. The film follows the stories of the three seeking help with their PTSD, and trying to figure out what to do when that help is unavailable.
Miles Teller, who has his second film in a week where he plays a real person, gives a strong performance, but nowhere near the work he did in Only the Brave. One of the biggest factors for this is that his character here is much less developed than in Only the Brave, which I’ll touch on later. Still, this being an intensely emotional role, Teller does a fantastic job, proving that he’s quickly becoming one of the most talented young dramatic actors working. In a performance that somewhat steals the show is Beulah Koale, playing Solo. Koale’s character has the most drastic arc in the film, allowing Koale to shine over his costars. Koale certainly drew the better straw with characters, but that should in no way downplay the strong performance he gives here. Aside from the miscast of Amy Schumer, all the performances in this film are very strong.
While writer/director Jason Hall is the primary connection Thank You for Your Service has to American Sniper, it is surprisingly the screenplay where this film suffers the most. It’s a fairly simple flaw that caused the downfall of this movie, making it even more shocking that Hall didn’t catch it. In Thank You for Your Service, we are told a story of three soldiers suffering from PTSD upon their return to the States. The point is to show the harsh impact PTSD has on the lives of soldiers, but never in the film does Hall show us what their lives were like or could be like without PTSD.
Upon initial response, it feels easy to say that life without PTSD is a given. And for many, especially for veterans and those who are close to a veteran, this will be an effective given because the film may hit close enough to home. The thing is, thought, is that doesn’t excuse the fact that in basic filmmaking and storytelling reason, in order to convey that there is a problem, you have to contrast the problem with a reality where that problem doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter if it takes place before or after the problem, so long as there is a contrast. In Thank You for Your Service, there is no contrast whatsoever. Hall makes the foolish mistake of thinking a keyword, in this case “PTSD,” is enough, but it simply isn’t.
Though basic, this flaw is something that isn’t evident unto itself. Instead, this failure to contrast is one that causes and develops a series of other problems: Characters will lack thorough development, causing them to be difficult to engage or sympathize with. And their struggles run together so that they begin to feel like characteristics instead of incidents. These problems, and the others with the same root, work against how we are intended to relate to the characters, making this maybe the most fatal storytelling mistake I’ve seen all year.
The mostly true story of Thank You for Your Service is one that pulls at your heartstrings and will almost certainly hit home with a lot of people. It’s a very good story that needs to be heard, and for many people that will be enough. That being said, this story had the potential to be way more effective than it is. This is already an impactful story, but the powers of filmmaking could have made this story unforgettable. But because of an inexcusably simple mistake of basic storytelling, Jason Hall made this is a film that has way too much potential to be forgotten. And frankly, that’s the worst possible thing he could have done.
I give Thank You for Your Service a 5.2/10.