Greg Eichelberger reviews 'Thank You For Your Service'

Greg Eichelberger
Staff Writer

The newest Universal Studios film, “Thank You For Your Service” (Jason Hall, the screenwriter for "American Sniper" in his directorial debut) follows a group of U.S. Army soldiers returning from Iraq who struggle to integrate back into family and civilian life, while living with the memory of a war that threatens to destroy them long after they've left the battlefield.
The story is powerful and the lead acting is terrific, especially Miles Teller ("Only the Brave") and Haley Bennett ("The Magnificent Seven") as Adam and Saskia Schuman, but the film often tries too hard to show how bad it is for soldiers returning from combat.
As a veteran, I am well aware of the troubles many combat returnees had and continue to have; but if judged by "Thank You For Your Service," EVERY soldier suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, has uncaring friends and family and is totally taken advantage of by an less than interested chain of command and the Veterans Administration.
The plot, screenplay by David Finkel (a musician by trade marking his screen writing debut) and based on his book, has three Iraq vets coming home in 2007 after a harrowing tour of duty in which a sergeant is killed and another soldier suffers a serious head wound.
Led by Sgt. Schuman, the group, Spec. Aeia Solo (Beulah Koale,"One Thousand Ropes") and Pvt. Walker (Joe Cole, "Green Room") run into various problems upon reaching the states (in this case, they all end up in Topeka, Kansas somehow).
Solo wants to re-enlist, but his wife is against it, as is the Army, since he suffered a traumatic brain injury; and Walker finds his girlfriend and her young daughter has abandoned him without a word.
And while Schuman seems to be the most stable of the trio, but he too is experiencing flashbacks, nightmares and guilty feeling after dropping a Pvt. Emory (Scott Haze, "Only the Brave"), after the latter was shot in the head and not being there when Sgt. Doster (Brad Beyer, a bunch of TV series from "Jericho" to "NCIS: Los Angeles") is killed in a Humvee explosion.
Of course, it doesn't help that Doster's wife, Amanda (a brunette Amy Schumer, "Snatched," playing very much against type), is constantly bugging him about her husband's death (even though Adam was not present when it happened).
Saskia tries to reach him, but he pushes her away and when he accidentally drops his infant son, he is kicked out and contemplates suicide.
Meanwhile, after getting involved in dog-fighting and the sale of drugs and guns, Solo is going downhill fast.
With Walker's troubles being even more severe (and ultimately permanent), Schuman and Solo seek help from the VA and a special program in California.
Almost universally, VA workers in this pictures are unconcerned, incompetent boobs (some certainly are, but the vast majority do their jobs quite well); while a commander upbraids Schuman for actually seeking treatment and an idiot officer is more concerned with ordering steaks than helping Solo in two patently ridiculous scenes.
There are other, more emotional and true to life sequences, but in an effort to make the men's troubles even more severe, many problems are exacerbated and pushed far over the top.
Some of these are effecting and often heart-tugging, but the overall experience is fairly benign and in an effort it to be a modern-day "Coming Home" or "The Best Years Of Our Lives," it falls quite short.
Teller, who began his film career with two horrid productions ("Project X," "Over 21"), acquits himself nicely here as the struggling former soldier caught between being strong for everyone around him and yet trapped by his own demons.
After an even more emotional performance struggling with survivor's guilt in last week's "Only the Brave," and a very strong turn in 2015's "Whiplash," Teller is maturing as an actor with just about every film.
His scenes — especially with Bennett — are easily the most effective here. Families, however, need to know this is rated "R,"with profanity and some sex and nudity.
Grade: C+