Teller and Koale sol­dier on in in­con­sis­tent PTSD story

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - CALENDAR MOVIE GUIDE - By Katie Walsh

It’s been a long time since “The Best Years of Our Lives,” the beloved 1946 film about sol­diers re­turn­ing home to their fam­i­lies after World War II, but the story, in many ways, re­mains the same. In Wil­liam Wyler’s movie, the sac­ri­fices of war were em­bod­ied by vet-turnedac­tor Harold Rus­sell, who lost both his hands in the Army. But com­bat in­juries aren’t al­ways so vis­i­ble, as ev­i­denced in “Thank You for Your Ser­vice,” the di­rec­to­rial de­but of “Amer­i­can Sniper” writer Ja­son Hall, who adapted David Finkel’s book for the screen.

“Thank You for Your Ser­vice” ex­plores the dev­as­ta­tion of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der suf­fered by Amer­i­can sol­diers re­turn­ing home in 2007 dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom. Wash­ing­ton Post jour­nal­ist Finkel was em­bed­ded with a group of sol­diers in Iraq to write the book “The Good Sol­diers,” and his follow-up, “Thank Your for Your Ser­vice,” de­tails their read­just­ment to their fam­i­lies and civil­ian life while bat­tling phys­i­cal, men­tal and emo­tional in­juries.

Miles Teller stars as Sgt. Adam Schu­mann, who strug­gles to find his foot­ing back home with his wife (Ha­ley Ben­nett) and kids. He seems most at ease when look­ing out for his boys, like he did back in Iraq, and is plagued by guilt over in­ci­dents at home and abroad when he was un­able to save his bud­dies from in­jury or death.

The de­tail­ing of their phys­i­cal and emo­tional in­juries is laid out in an al­most edu­tain­ment style, cit­ing sta­tis­tics about sui­cide and with care­ful ques­tion­naires about men­tal dis­tress. But it’s at once an MPAA rat­ing: R (for strong vi­o­lent con­tent, lan­guage through­out, some sex­u­al­ity, drug ma­te­rial and brief nu­dity) Run­ning time: 1:48 Opens: Fri­day ac­count of PTSD and a wartime mys­tery. While these young vets strug­gle to re­ceive treat­ment for their com­bat stress, trau­matic brain in­juries and sui­ci­dal thoughts, they also speak cryp­ti­cally about “what hap­pened to Doster,” one of their com­rades who died, leav­ing be­hind a dis­traught widow (Amy Schumer) search­ing for an­swers.

While parts of “Thank You for Your Ser­vice” work well, over­all the film is in­con­sis­tent. A mid­dle sec­tion lays out a per­fect vil­lain that is dis­ap­point­ingly dropped: the gov­ern­men­tal sys­tem that churns through boys and leaves them alone to nav­i­gate the bu­reau­cratic night­mare that is Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, while ad­mon­ish­ing them that it’s “bad for morale” to ask for help.

This bit­ing, tren­chant so­cial com­men­tary is aban­doned for a mis­guided sub­plot in­volv­ing Solo (Beu­lah Koale), Adam’s buddy, get­ting caught up in a bad sit­u­a­tion with a drug dealer, a Desert Storm vet. It’s ex­tremely dis­ap­point­ing that the film ul­ti­mately po­si­tions the real threat as a fel­low vet, a man of color, rather than the war ma­chine that chewed them up and spit them out.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Army wives aren’t all that much to write home about ei­ther. They’re mostly shrill nags who can’t un­der­stand. Schumer, mak­ing a turn to­ward dra­matic fare, is woe­fully mis­cast. In a brown wig, it’s too hard to sep­a­rate her from her comedic per­sona, and it al­most feels like one of her “In­side Amy Schumer” sketches.

Teller is a com­pelling ac­tor, and when the film fo­cuses on Adam and his boys — their bonds forged in com­bat, sealed with blood — it’s sen­si­tive and mov­ing. No man is left be­hind, even back home. Teller is best across from Koale, who is ut­terly riv­et­ing in his soul­ful per­for­mance as the Amer­i­can Samoan sol­dier Solo. De­spite its sto­ry­telling in­con­sis­ten­cies, the film re­veals a har­row­ing vet­eran ex­pe­ri­ence when it fo­cuses sim­ply on the men them­selves.

FRANCOIS DUHAMEL/DREAMWORKS PIC­TURES

Miles Teller, left, and Beu­lah Koale por­tray U.S. sol­diers re­turn­ing from Iraq in Ja­son Hall’s di­rec­to­rial de­but.

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