I’m drawn to war movies that simultaneously pay tribute to our veterans yet have a staunch anti-war message, and “Thank You for Your Service” is one to add to the list of other films in that same vein (“The Deer Hunter,” “Platoon,” “Fury”). This sobering look at soldiers returning from war and the horrific emotional impact of combat suffers only briefly from flashes of predictability and overall presents a realistic portrait of PTSD.
Based on a true story from the 2013 novel of the same title by David Finkel, the film follows a trio of soldiers (Miles Teller, Beulah Koale, Joe Cole) returning from Iraq. It starts off like every other war movie as the men struggle to integrate back into civilian life. Their children barely know them, and their wives (Haley Bennett, Erin Darke) hardly recognize them anymore with their stark changes in personality. What’s shocking is that the film manages to avoid most of the usual ‘soldiers coming home’ clichés, instead painting a haunting and authentic portrait of the mental struggles of veterans who wish aloud they were disfigured or even dead rather than having to live a life trapped in a constant cycle of self-doubt and severe depression.
This is a gripping story that’s intimate and beautifully filmed. It’s a story that’s bleak, dramatic, and compelling, and it’s incredibly well acted (this is easily one of Teller’s best performances). Teller and his co-star Koale excel at portraying the sensibilities of the modern soldier, paying tribute to the men (and women) who put forth a stalwart exterior yet bury an emotional fury of pain, blame, and regret.
The story is emphatically human and intimate, not the type of film with a rah-rah patriotic message or preachy ‘Christian values’ propaganda viewpoints. In fact, this is one of the few movies about the military that doesn’t resort to any overt religious imagery. Now that’s something we should all appreciate no matter our beliefs.
This is a thought provoking and eye-opening film that presents an unflinching look at the traumatic aftermath of the tortuous mental anguish and residual torment suffered by many of our veterans. After every war there are soldiers who return carrying debilitating guilt to the point where they can no longer function as regular human beings. It’s a sadly relevant topic that explores how America fails her forgotten heroes. Shame on our country for abandoning these brave men and women who return home beaten and battered yet are turned away and unable to get basic psychological help. We have to do better and we have to be better than to let them suffer this way.
Warning for animal lovers: there is a very graphic and very disturbing dog fighting scene, so prepare yourself. It works well as a metaphor for a soldier’s wartime mentality so I understand why it was included, but it’s tough to sit through. And of course, there are plenty of disturbing, bloody war scenes involving humans too.