Credit Francois Duhamel/Universal Pictures
The most relevant movie precursor to “Thank You for Your Service,” an earnest and powerful drama about Iraq veterans returning to Kansas, is not “The Hurt Locker,” or the well-meaning but toothless coming-home dramas released during the Bush years (“Stop-Loss,” “The Lucky Ones”), or even “American Sniper,” written by Jason Hall, who wrote the screenplay for this film, his feature directing debut.
It’s “Of Men and War,” a 2015 documentary shot at the Pathway Home in Yountville, Calif., a center designed to reacclimate veterans to civilian life — and also where one of the characters in “Thank You for Your Service” winds up. “Of Men and War” demanded that viewers witness the psychic scars of fighting, measuring them as part of war’s cost along with the dead and more visibly wounded.
Mr. Hall, working in a more sentimental, multiplex-friendly mode, makes the same point here. The movie is partly adapted from the well-received 2013 book by The Washington Post’s David Finkel, who followed survivors of a battalion he had chronicled in an earlier book. Working freehandedly, Mr. Hall contrives motivations and friendships for dramatic effect. (One of the main three returning soldiers in the movie, played by Joe Cole, who arrives in Kansas only to learn that his fiancée has left him, has been added to the mix.)
Trailer: ‘Thank You for Your Service’
The central protagonist is Adam Schumann (Miles Teller, convincingly tough), who still instinctively scans American roadsides for bombs just as he did in Iraq. He has missed crucial time with his wife (Haley Bennett, whose character and performance go beyond sympathetic-wife clichés) and young children. He is haunted by two incidents for which he feels responsible: his imperfect rescue of a comrade shot in the head, seen in a prologue, and another death, revealed only gradually, that left his wife’s friend Amanda Doster (Amy Schumer, in a successfully counterintuitive bit of casting) a widow.
The other principal character is Tausolo Aeiti (Beulah Koale, a newcomer), who suffers from crippling memory loss that hampers daily functioning. As with Adam, part of Tausolo’s trouble is admitting his problems to himself. The movie argues that the military stifles such breakthroughs on two fronts: first with a culture that encourages stoicism, second with a failure to provide prompt medical care for veterans.
Striving for the elusive goal of political neutrality, Mr. Hall has made a less jingoistic film than “American Sniper” (in the combat sequences, villainous Iraqis have been replaced with faceless ones). Instead, “Thank You for Your Service” is a macho weepie, whose message — that wars are permanent for those who fight in them — has broad appeal.