The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Thank You for Your Service

Thank You for Your Service obviously takes its name from the comment many people make to active and retired members of the military. In this case, it's used semi-ironically, as the story examines how hard it can be for those same individuals to receive help upon leaving active duty. There's not really anything here you don't already know. Nevertheless, the film is a dramatically compelling reminder that our society needs to do a whole lot more if it really wants to thank our vets for their service.

The focus is on three young men returning home from the Middle East. Will (Joe Cole) comes back to find that his girlfriend has completely abandoned him, taking all their possessions with her. Solo (Beulah Koale) has some brain damage that makes him forgetful, as well as frightening to his pregnant wife (Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes). Most prominently, there's Adam (Miles Teller). He feels suicidal a lot, but tries to push everything down, much to the dismay of his supportive wife Saskia (Haley Bennett). Part of the reason why is that he knows what led to the death of a fellow soldier, whose widow (comedian Amy Schumer, in a solid supporting performance) is looking for answers.

Based on the non-fiction book by David Finkel, Thank You for Your Service depicts its characters experiencing various symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and, to its credit, doing so in a largely realistic manner. Depression, anxiety, and flashbacks are all accounted for. More interestingly, the film gets at some of the less easily observable ones, too, such as a perpetual feeling of disconnectedness from others. An especially insightful touch is the way Adam clearly has no bond with his infant son, who was born while he was away. The movie compassionately shows you some of the things traumatized vets deal with on a familial level.

Another angle in the story is how bureaucratic red tape prevents people from getting the help they need in a timely fashion. Adam and Solo visit the VA, only to stand in long lines, after which they're told it will be months before they can gain admittance into a treatment program. Scenes such as this get your brain working while you watch. What are these men and women supposed to do in the meantime, when they're clearly suffering? What has broken down in our system that we can't care for America's protectors more expediently?

Those are big questions to ask. American Sniper writer Jason Hall, making his directorial debut, is perhaps not experienced enough behind the camera to raise the issues with an excess of nuance. At times, Thank You for Your Service is heavy-handed, practically making its points with flashing neon signs. One scene, for instance, has a VA caseworker telling Adam and Saskia that it will be a while before he can get trauma treatment because there are hundreds of thousands of people seeking it. ”But he's a veteran!” Saskia exclaims, to which the caseworker clarifies that she meant hundreds of thousands of vets.

While it may not always be subtle, the film's willingness to broach these subjects is admirable. It helps that the actors are excellent. Miles Teller, in particular, does deeply moving work as a guy who has been thoroughly trained by the military to push out his emotions and move forward at all costs. That ends up being just as crippling as any physical injury he might have received in combat. The actor brings significant weight to Adam's struggle.

Thank You for Your Service deals with tough subject matter, yet ultimately proves to be far more uplifting than depressing. PTSD is not curable, but it is treatable. Our vets are here, and they need our support. The movie, through good drama and skilled acting, reminds us that we are not helpless on this count. A little effort on everyone's part can make a world of difference to them, which would be the most effective expression of gratitude possible.

( out of four)

Thank You for Your Service is rated R for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.

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