At war movies today, with our wars themselves gone FUBAR, what audiences get invited to take pride in is what our boys do for each other -- and how much they suffer for it.
Writer/director Jason Hall's pained and earnest Thank You For Your Service (adapted from journalist David Finkel's excellent book of the same title) goes further still than American Sniper and the like in its refusal to celebrate. Hall brings the war home, tracking three discharged soldiers (played with aching hurt and camaraderie by Miles Teller, Beulah Koale and Joe Cole) who return to the Midwest and their families to find nothing the same as it was, especially themselves.
"My shit's scrambled," says Aieti, Koale's character. What follows is a clear-eyed, heartsick, and singularly honest American film about hollowed-out men finding themselves adrift in a hollowed-out country, though I must note that it's also what you might call "a tough sit." The central drama involves waiting for a man to find within himself the wherewithal to speak about what he's feeling, to admit there's a problem and seek help. That's both a painfully familiar scenario for anyone acquainted with American men, yet also one that plays against the strengths of studio filmmaking: Today's Hollywood isn't much for interiority or the patient examination of day-to-day living. Perhaps that's the reason that Hall keeps edging the film toward flashier genres. He stages horror jump scares to suggest trauma of feeling and seems to perk up the closer one of his desperate vets gets to crime drama. Still, Haley Bennett and Teller share strong scenes of strained marital tenderness, and this imperfect film is a public service worth being thankful for itself.