‘Thank You for Your Service’ a thoughtful coming-home story

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Miles Teller stars in “Thank You for Your Service.” | DreamWorks Pictures

One of the quieter scenes in “Thank You for Your Service” resonates with me, weeks after seeing the film. It’s almost a throwaway scene compared to the combat sequences and the full-throttle emotional conflicts.

It’s the mid-2000s. Miles Teller’s Sgt. Adam Schumann is home for good after his third deployment to Iraq. His limbs are intact but his mind and psyche are fragile. Adam has found the courage to seek help at the local VA, but he’s quickly ensnared in red tape and he finds himself waiting in a long line just to get the credentials he’ll need to start waiting in the REAL lines.

Adam’s former commanding officer marches down the hallway in full uniform, trailed by a phalanx of associates. He spots Adam and asks why one of his best men is in this particular line. We think perhaps the CO will tell Adam, “Come with me,” and make sure this war hero gets what he needs.

No. When Adam explains he’s here to get psychological help, the CO recoils in disgust and tells him to buck up and act like a man, because he owes that to “Big Army.”

It’s challenge enough for a war veteran to reach out for psychological help. But when you’re up against a mountain of bureaucratic obstacles, not to mention some higher-ups who don’t even believe a soldier should need counseling and therapy and long-term help readjusting to civilian life, the struggle is that much greater.

Writer-director Jason Hall’s “Thank You for Your Service” follows in the tradition of “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “The Deer Hunter” and “American Sniper” (for which Hall wrote the screenplay). It is a movie about the horrors of war — and the extremely difficult and sometimes insurmountable challenges faced by the young soldiers after the fighting has ended and they’re back home.

“Thank You for Your Service” brings home these issues in ways big and small. It reminds us that after the emotional reunions at the airport or the military base and the “Welcome Home” parties and maybe even a write-up in the local media, the former soldier wakes up one morning, has breakfast with the family and looks out the window and is faced with the rest of his life. He’s got to reconnect with his wife and children, get a job, etc., etc., even as he’s still hearing the sounds of enemy fire in his sleep, still tasting the blood and smoke and dust, still haunted by images of his buddies who didn’t make it back.

Adam tells his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett in a beautifully rendered performance) he’s going to re-apply for his job as a greenskeeper at the local golf course. That’s a kid’s job, replies Saskia. You were just in charge of a company of a dozen men.

In the meantime, Adam’s best friend, an American Samoan named Tausolo aka “Solo” (Beulah Koale, nothing short of great), is on the verge of a full-scale meltdown. After multiple tours of duty, Solo has difficulty remembering the most basic things — like what day it is. He wants to re-up for yet another tour of duty because he feels more at home in Iraq than in the States, but there’s no chance of that happening. He’s damaged goods. Adam and Solo lean on one another, but each is so broken, it’s only a matter of time before one or both of them collapse.

“Thank You for Your Service” features a number of memorable performances from supporting players. The comic force Amy Schumer disappears into a straight dramatic role as a grieving widow determined to find out how her husband died. It’s tough, real, sincere acting.

Such is the intensity of this film that the “comic relief,” or at least something approximating a break from the heaviest drama, comes when Adam goes on a road trip to see Michael Emory (Scott Haze), who somehow survived getting shot in the head AND being dropped down a flight of concrete stairs by an exhausted Adam, who was trying to carry Michael to safety.

Suffice to say Adam finds Michael in a far different place, physically and psychologically, than he expected.

We’ve seen this movie before, or at least versions of this story — but thanks to Hall’s well-crafted script and sure-handed direction, and the heartbreakingly effective performances from Teller and the supporting players, this is a powerful and valuable addition to the coming-home war movie canon.

★★★★

DreamWorks Pictures presents a film written and directed by Jason Hall, based on the book by David Finkel. Rated R (for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity). Running time: 109 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.

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