8 Things Parents Should Know About ‘Thank You for Your Service’

1. What’s it about?

In his books, The Good Soldiers and again in Thank You for Your Service, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Finkel has captured the cold reality of war and its effects on those who are subjected to its brutality. Now, on the big screen, Finkel’s second book has been adapted by Academy Award nominee Jason Hall and is a look at three men returning home to Kansas after the Iraq war. It is an intense and powerful dive into the struggles some soldiers and their families face when dealing with PTSD. Unlike those with missing limbs or otherwise outwardly damaged, it’s a very real look at the way some veterans return from the battlefield, scarred in ways we cannot see, and how, as a country, we often set them aside without healing the mental toll that combat has taken on our young warriors. Thank You for Your Service is rated R.

2. Who’s in it?

The movie is directed by American Sniper screenplay writer Jason Hall and stars Miles Teller (Whiplash), Haley Bennett (The Girl on the Train, The Magnificent Seven), Keisha Castle-Hughes (Game of Thrones), and relative newcomer Beulah Koale. Omar J. Dorsey (Django Unchained, The Blind Side, Selma) has a supporting role, and we were surprised at Amy Schumer‘s appearance–she does an admirable job in a very small part. For an emotionally driven drama, all actors do a good job of keeping the audience in the moment with Teller, Bennett, and Koale as the standouts.

3. Will I like it?

I went into this movie cold, without knowing anything about the film, not having seen a trailer, nor having read a synopsis. I didn’t know anything about the book and, just judging from the title, I assumed it would be a patriotic after-school special type of movie. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While I feel like the movie loses its way for a moment here and there, on the whole, it is potent and moving and unlike anything we’ve seen on the big screen. Sure, other feature films have touched on veterans coming home and challenges faced in the clichéd ways Hollywood often uses, none have done it as well, as bare and as nakedly honest as Thank You for Your Service. To be clear, it’s a difficult movie to watch at times and, in our theater, there was laughing at jokes that really weren’t really that funny, but served as welcome opportunities to relieve a little of the pressure that kept building throughout the film. It’s a serious movie and should awaken you to real problems many Americans (and those who fought for America) face. As the lights came up at the end of the movie and the credits began to scroll, a single word was heard from the front of our theater: “Wow.” Indeed. Cinema as escapism, it is not.

4. Will my kids like it?

Unless your kids are older and mature, they shouldn’t see it. It is a very intense movie with adult situations, language, dog fighting, and some very graphic violence. Also, there are quite a few scenes displaying very acute mental anguish and suicide. While much of the movie takes place outside of a war zone, the scenes that do take place there are difficult to watch. Leave the kids at home.

5. What’s the issue here?

Though presented as an apolitical movie, Thank You for Your Service does have a strong message. The title of the movie isn’t actually heard in the film and it seems to be a mildly sarcastic allusion to how we expose young men and women to insufferable situations and then just send them on their ways. Though we’ve been aware of PTSD for a long time, like many other issues, we’re only just now beginning to address PTSD in meaningful ways. There’s a long way to go and too many veterans either aren’t getting help or aren’t seeking help. This is a huge factor in the statistic that you’ve likely heard about 20 veterans committing suicide each day. Thank You for Your Service boldly addresses both PTSD and suicide in a way we’ve not seen before.

6. When are there good times to go to the bathroom?

Thank You for Your Service clocks in at 1:49. The plot moves quickly, but at about the 30-minute mark, Teller and Koale’s characters pull out of the garage in the dark. This is a good time, but hustle back–this spins into an important plot point.

7. Do I need to stay after the credits?

You don’t, there’s nothing after the credits roll. I was a little surprised that there wasn’t a call to action–a plea to help men and women like those in the movie. I was taking notes at this time, so I may have missed it, but I’m pretty sure there wasn’t one. Missed opportunity, I think.

8. Is there anything else I need to know?

We are a nation that moves past our ugliness and tragedies as quickly as possible. It’s been about three and a half weeks since 58 people were murdered and another 546 injured in Las Vegas, yet the story was pushed to the back-burner just days after the tragedy so we could get back to obsessing over the theater of politics.

How can the very real problem of PTSD, mental illness, and suicide get the attention it deserves, that it needs, when our attention spans are so short? Or do we just lack the fortitude to tackle ugly problems head on? When 20 veterans kill themselves each day, we have a problem–and one that an understaffed and underfunded Department of Veterans Affairs can’t keep up with. What can you do? Call your representative. Get involved with a group that helps returning veterans. Lastly–and most importantly–if you fear a friend or loved one is going to hurt themselves, get them help immediately.

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