Georgia’s growing film industry means more and more #GAFilm in bigger and brighter spotlights.
Atlanta had the benefit of not only being the town to host Thank You For Your Service (directorial debut by Jason Hall) film crews during production, but also a special screening in which the lead, Miles Teller, the serviceman for whom the story is based, Sergeant Adam Schumann, and director himself, Jason Hall, were in attendance. Georgia Entertainment News writers were ushered into an eagerly awaiting crowd, and listened to the buzz of reunited servicemen, crew members, and fans alike.
That being said, the camaraderie in the theater paled in comparison to the valor and prideful inspiration that danced across the screen. From the opening shot of twinkling dogtags and quick change to war and families in emotional turmoil, Thank You For Your Service brought to light the harrowing experiences of PTSD and the harsh realities of servicemen returning to a less-than welcoming home country.
Senior staff writers Jamie Traner and Christo Stevens discuss the experience below.
Jamie: Thank You For Your Service is not your average gung-ho military film; it does not bleed red, white, and blue. The film is a close look at what types of mental and social dismay many troops face upon returning home from service. PTSD, danger with families, and long government lines just for starters. The ultimate message is not “ENLIST” or “WE WANT YOU FOR THE US ARMY”, it’s a human-story emphasizing the need for care in PTSD. Volunteer; ask someone how they’re doing.
J: We were lucky to attend a screening in which the director, main actor, and Sergeant on whom the film is based we all in attendance. They assured audiences that while the film tells tales of the military side of PTSD, the human aspect should be relatable to any PTSD survivors. Car crash, abuse, etc.
Christo: I really loved that Sergeant Schumann mentioned that. While I was fully invested in the characters’ struggles in this specific narrative, it hadn’t even occurred to me to view the movie through the lense of general grief. What Schumann and his fellow soldiers go through is experienced by so many people for so many different reasons. Director Jason Hall, Miles Teller and the rest of the cast do such a fantastic job of showing how the heavy burden of PTSD and grief can chip away at a person’s core. I’d also like to give a shout out to Beulah Koale, who plays Schumann’s friend and fellow soldier Solo. His performance was so authentic and heartbreaking I was shocked to learn that this was one of his first acting credits.
J: YES! Agreed; hearing the story of how Koale was cast was inspiring on a level entirely separate from the film. [For those who don’t know, Beulah was taking care of his entire family and needed $40 to scrape together an audition tape– due to his financial situation, that was $40 that he didn’t have, but he managed to scrounge up the money with support from others and landed the role].
But back to the film. The opening shot, on hundreds of dangling dog tags, set the tone of an eerie beauty in loss. It sounds contrived, but the story of [redemption]in Schumann and Solo truly carries a depth that has been missing from cinematic conversation. Soldiers need compassion, as we all do, they need hope and appreciation for their acts of service that go beyond what most civilians can even imagine.
C: I totally agree. And I think the increasing vulnerability amongst all the characters humanizes them while also shining a light on just how brutal being a soldier can be – both physically and mentally. The film is definitely a slow burn. Hall takes his time with these characters which makes the scenes of sudden outbursts or violence all the more potent.
J: Absolutely. Especially as a first time directorial debut, Hall truly emphasizes the men behind the uniform. His research is clear, and the casting was well done. The participation of Schumann, himself, must have been such a blessing for the production.
C: What really got me was how these soldiers’ PTSD affected their families. Of course the disorder impacts people on a daily basis, but what about their loved ones? Wives and husbands do their best to help and relate to their spouses who suffer but they can only do so much. Children see their parents return home as shattered versions of who they were when they left. Haley Bennet plays Schumann’s wife Saskia. She wants to help and she wants to understand him but his mental state is driving a wedge between the two.
J: That certainly is an aspect that I hadn’t deeply considered. Solo’s wife Alea, played by Keisha Castle-Hughes, shone in her role, clearly as did Bennet. I suppose I was too easily distracted by the internal battles of the soldiers and trying to read their behaviours. It’s a difficult conversation to have, trying to have compassion for all the varied characters and recognizing their faults that we so easily connect with; that brings us back to that slow burn that audiences may feel, considering the helplessness-factor of these situations. But the way the crew explained (in the Q&A) the importance of volunteering and just every little thing people can do to help those with PTSD.
How do you think this film will be received by audiences in our country’s current climate, if I may be so bold to ask?
C: Well I couldn’t help relate the film to 2015’s American Sniper, which was actually scripted by Jason Hall himself. That movie, which ended up being a massive success, focused on similar ideas. I think Thank You For Your Service will be well received by American audiences thanks to its inherent patriotism as well as the overarching themes of trauma, grief and mental illness that so many will be able to latch onto. I myself find war films that focus on the harsh realities and the negative effects of it far more compelling than the more “hoo-rah!” war films we’ve seen in the past.
That being said, I do think this film lacks a certain cinematic quality. While the themes and performances elevated the material, there was little visual flare from a directing standpoint. Having never been behind the camera before, Jason Hall proved to me he’s capable of telling a story but I would like to see him grow stylistically.
J: I can agree with that. There were some lovely shots, but it was a snippet here and there. The opening shot of dog tags was eerily serene, but the remainder of the film did play out visually as a fairly average narrative.
J: Miles Teller continues a streak of impressive roles on a broad spectrum. One day the man plays a drugged out teen, the next he is equally convincing in a comedy, and then doesn’t bat an eye taking on the role of serviceman Sergeant Adam Schumann. It’s just refreshing to see him return to drama without any ‘rust.’ His career started off with some heavy topics in Rabbit Hole, but then he switches over to Footloose and Project X. While he is great in each role, the depth he has brought to Schumann’s character is an appreciated subject that highlights Teller and his progression as an actor.
C: Absolutely! The guy has range for sure. I’ve been a fan of his since The Spectacular Now (shot in Athens). Now we see him return to Georgia for this film which was shot in and around Atlanta.
Overall the movie worked for me thanks to its characters and its unflinching look into the hurt that is PTSD. I’m excited to watch the creative team move forward. I hope Thank You For Your Service reaches the masses because the film – and its message – deserve to.
J: It’s hard not to be a fan of any film shot in Atlanta, but this film goes far beyond Atlanta’s economic value. The take-aways are hard-hitting and thought provoking about a sensitive subject that can so often be discredited or ignored. PTSD in any form is brutal, and to further examine the efforts and realities our soldiers face are, for lack of a better word, inspiring. Inspiring civilians to volunteer, or donate, or just have a conversation with a soldier; say “Thank You.” These men and women have given so much more than will ever be seen and we finally have a film to showcase the individuals.
This film is certainly worthy of a watch.