Powerful “Thank You” Recounts Vets’ Long Journey Home
“I’m going to name my son after me so I don’t forget his name.”
This is the sort of coping mechanism the veterans in Jason Hall’s impressive debut Thank You for Your Service are forced to employ when they return from active duty and take on their biggest challenge – reintegrating to the home front, their real lives, the World. In many ways this is more difficult than going into battle for as the film goes to great lengths to point out, these veterans are not given any sort of post-service therapy or advice as to how to go back to be the caring father or fiancé or brother. They are set adrift, left to their own devices, some of them learning to cope, while others tragically succumb to their demons.
Based on the book by David Finkel, the film follows three veterans of the Iraqi War, returning home late in 2007 to high expectations, hoping to find a degree of normalcy they can function in. Waller (Joe Cole) is high-strung and seemingly has a guardian angel looking over his shoulder. He’s been wounded time and again but seems to have suffered no permanent damage. This will be off little importance to him when he finds that his fiancée has left him. Aieti (Beulah Koale) has not been as lucky. He’s suffered traumatic brain injuries and knows there’s no way he’ll be able to cope with his pregnant wife (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and the coming of a child. Schumann (Miles Teller) may be in the most difficult situation of the three as he appears normal, has good coping skills and is able to hide his troubles from his concerned wife (Haley Bennett) who knows something is amiss.
Hall does an impressive job behind the camera, never opting for the melodramatic, having his camera sit back and observe these men and their interactions. He knows the power of this particular story needs no embellishment and his cast knows it as well. One of the strongest elements of the film is the sense of camaraderie we see between the three principals. There’s a sincerity between them that makes you feel as though they’ve seen each other at their best, as well as their worst, that side-by-side they’ve faced life and death, that there is an unbreakable bond between them they will carry to the grave. There’s a sense of poignancy in the quiet moments they spend together that’s never forced and all the more powerful for it.
The majority of Schumann’s troubles stem from an incident involving a misguided patrol and the deaths that resulted from it. Hall punctuates the film with flashbacks throughout, giving us a bit more information each time, the viewer struggling to make sense of it all much as Schumann is doing. His journey towards finding peace regarding this incident is compelling, made all the more so due to Teller’s fine work as the actor touchingly conveys the man’s attempts to put on a brave face for his family, eventually realizing he can no longer run from the past.
One of the stronger points the film makes is the lack of care veterans get when they return. The Department of Veterans Affairs is seen as a Kafkaesque bureaucracy hopelessly bogged down by red tape and hindered by a callous work force. When told that most of these shattered soldiers will not receive help for 6- 9 months, the sense of outrage the movie stokes is raw and potent.
The movie threatens to lose its way when Aieti becomes involved with drug dealers and the ending is too abrupt and far too pat in the way it resolves things. The film is stark but not without hope, which is Hall’s ultimate message. Treated far too long as disposable or hopelessly damaged, these soldiers’ greatest battle is one we all have a hand in fighting by demanding more help be given them at a governmental level to helping them find employment and a sense of well-being locally. This is not easy and Thank You powerfully reminds us that it’s a fight that should never be fought alone.