Thank You For Your Service comes home to Blu-ray, but doesn’t quite deliver.
Thank You For Your Service is a well-intentioned, but ultimately frustrating film to watch. Mostly based on David Finkel’s 2013 book, the movie focuses on the PTSD and other difficulties faced by Army veterans returning home from combat duty in Iraq. There’s a great story to be told in this area, as we’ve seen from past productions such as Coming Home and The Deer Hunter, and this is certainly a worthy subject to be addressing in our current era. The problem with the film is that writer/director Jason Hall simply doesn’t show us more than the surface of what is a much more involved and ingrown problem. Miles Teller does what he can with a nearly opaque lead character, and Beulah Koale and Scott Haze give quite good performances as more noticeably damaged veterans, but there just isn’t much substance here for an audience to absorb. The movie promises to be an intense look at what happens when a combat vet comes home to bigger problems in civilian life, and about how hard it is to adjust from military service to being a regular civilian. Unfortunately, what we see in the film is mostly a regurgitation of the usual beats that get played in these stories, where the guys are unable to make the adjustment, or where the pressures of home life play out in violent ways. It’s a shame, since the filmmakers had a good story and a willing cast here. One wishes the film could have had a stronger writer/director to mine the material.
SPOILERS: The story of Thank You For Your Service is built from David Finkel’s 2013 non-fiction book, which was itself a sequel to Finkel’s The Good Soldiers. Finkel’s earlier book covered the lives of an army battalion on duty in Baghdad in the mid-2000s, and with the 2013 book, he followed them back home when they completed their duties. Two members of the battalion are key to the story of both the book and the movie: SSgt Adam Schumann (played by Miles Teller in the movie) and Specialist Solo Aieti (played by Beulah Koale in the movie). Schumann’s true story is the backbone of the movie – his struggle to adjust to coming home from military service, and his self-punishment over the injuries and deaths suffered by the men in his battalion in Iraq. In particular, Schumann’s story focuses on his inability to rescue a fellow soldier, Michael Emory (played by Scott Haze in the movie) – where Emory had been shot in the head on a rooftop, Schumann’s bungled attempt to carry him out of the building resulted in Schumann dropping him on his head. As an added bonus, Schumann’s trauma at that time led to another Sergeant, Doster, taking his place on their next mission – something that resulted in the man’s death after their Humvee was attacked and Solo inadvertently left the wounded Sergeant Doster behind in the burning wreckage. (There’s a strong point to be made that Solo was already suffering from PTSD as well as major memory issues by the time of that attack.) So Schumann’s story is one of both PTSD and survivor guilt. And unlike his fellow veterans in this story, Schumann was not wounded on the outside.
MORE SPOILERS: The story of Solo Aieti is another one of PTSD, this one manifesting itself in noticeably serious memory problems – to the point that he not only is unable to re-enlist as he’d wanted to do but is also unable to function on more than a basic level. Add to this a major bit of survivor guilt over leaving Doster behind, and it’s not a surprise to see Solo having violent outbursts that seem to come from nowhere. A third story is added for the movie – that of Billy Waller (played by Joe Cole), a fellow soldier in Schumann’s battalion. This story is the more typical one – Waller comes home from service to find out that his girlfriend has abandoned him, something that leads to further tragedy when he confronts her at her work by shooting himself. (This part of the story is quite odd in the middle of the more realistic details. We’re meant to believe that Waller has nobody in which to confide but Schumann, except that his mother suddenly appears out of nowhere at his funeral. And we’re meant to believe that Waller can walk into a bank with a loaded weapon and not be confronted before he can pull his maneuver.)
EVEN MORE SPOILERS: There’s some great potential in all the material being mined here from David Finkel’s book, and even from the more typical scenario Jason Hall uses to create Billy Waller. There are seriously disturbing signs of trouble from Schumann – everything from his halting attempts to act as a responsible husband and father when he’s clearly at a distance from everyone to his wife’s discovery (a la The Shining) of his psych eval responses where he admits to having suicidal thoughts. There’s a great moment where Schumann visits the near-paralyzed Emery, who gives a healthy response to Schumann’s guilt over dropping him – noting that the fall wasn’t what did the damage, compared to the bullet and the brain surgery that followed everything. There’s a great potential storyline about how Solo falls into mule work for a local drug-dealing veteran, given his inability to function at anything else. And there’s even great potential in addressing the Billy Waller idea – in that many veterans have come home to similar tragic situations and had even worse outcomes. (The movie does not cover the reality that US Armed Forces go through a decompression period before they actually return to their homes – in that people need to be retrained in how to react to everyday situations – for example, what would be an appropriate defensive reaction in a hostile area overseas would be catastrophic if it happened on a suburban sidewalk.) And yet, the movie simply glosses over the more difficult ideas and moments. These issues show up as a quick blip or acknowledgment and then the story moves on in a fairly pat fashion. The tragedy here is that these issues really deserve a much more in-depth treatment, as they received in films like Coming Home. What we see here frankly comes across as one-dimensional – and that problem stems from the writer/director. He’s well-intentioned and he’s certainly looking at some worthy material – he’s just not the person to tell this story, unfortunately.
The Blu-ray of Thank You For Your Service was released on January 23rd, in packaging that includes both the Blu-ray and a DVD edition with the same content. Both discs contain the movie and two featurettes totaling about 20 minutes of material. The Blu-ray benefits from solid high-definition picture and 7.1 sound, although the movie does not make that much use of the added sound capacity.
Thank You For Your Service is presented in a 2:40:1 1080p AVC transfer (@ an average of 37 mbps) that does quite well with a variety of fleshtones and textures, and an intentional contrast between the washed out, dirty look of Iraq and the somewhat richer and darker tones of the home front.
Thank You For Your Service is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track (@ an average 3.7 mbps, but ramping up to 6.2 mbps in the occasional combat scenes). There’s great dimensionality during moments of combat and PTSD at home, but most of the mix is a lot quieter. Frankly, a large majority of the movie finds the dialogue coming from the front speakers and all 4 of the mid and rear speakers just being used for music or occasional wind. If you’re coming to this movie with the expectation of an immersive 7.1 mix, this is not the demo disc you were looking for. The Blu-ray includes a DTS 5.1 mix in Spanish as well and an English DVS track.
Thank You For Your Service comes with just a pair of featurettes to discuss the making of the film.
Staging a War (12:20, 1080p) – This relatively short featurette includes quick interview soundbites with the full cast, as well as several of the real soldiers and families portrayed in the movie. Jason Hall discusses how he wanted to honor returning soldiers with the movie, and describes his search for an actual New Zealander to play Solo, to get the maximum level of accuracy. The movie production is shown as having two lives – one in Morocco for the Iraq sequences and the other in Atlanta, where nearly the entire movie was shot.
The Battle at Home (7:37, 1080p) – This short featurette gets into a little more detail about the work done in Atlanta to stage various scenes, particularly a sequence at the VA Hospital. Jason Hall discusses how they located as many actual veterans as they could to work as extras in the scenes showing a multitude of vets waiting for pitifully little help. (Hall does not mention that this approach is normal for anyone making a film like this – it’s standard procedure to try to bring in as many authentic background artists as you can.)
DVD – The DVD edition included in the packaging holds an SD transfer of the movie, with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English and Spanish along with the English DVS track. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish. The same two featurettes from the Blu-ray are also on the DVD.
Digital Copy – Instructions for obtaining a digital copy of the movie are available on an insert in the packaging.
The film is subtitled in English, French and Spanish. The usual pop-up menu is present, along with a complete chapter menu.
Thank You For Your Service is a movie that has its heart in the right place, but just can’t deliver on the more searing and revealing experience it promises. The Blu-ray is serviceable enough, given the solid picture quality. The 7.1 sound is a bit of a stretch, in that the movie really doesn’t make much use out of it. And the special features do a pretty good job of scratching the surface but there isn’t much below the hood. The true stories of Adam Schumann and Solo Aieti are absolutely worthy of being told today – one just wishes that we could have had a stronger hand at the wheel here.
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