Hollywood has done surprisingly well on the subject of war veterans, from 1946’s heartbreaking 'The Best Years of Our Lives' – long before PTSD was a typical diagnosis – to more recent films like 'The Hurt Locker' and 'American Sniper'. Jason Hall, the screenwriter of that last movie, now makes a sincere, unshowy directorial debut with 'Thank You for Your Service', a mostly quiet drama that burrows deep under the psychological scars of a group of Iraq combat vets returned home with demons they can’t exorcise. Once a confident sergeant, Adam Schumann (Miles Teller, effortlessly natural) still scans the gutters of his Missouri suburb’s roads for plastic bags that might be hiding bombs; his former comrade in arms, Solo (Beulah Koale), has worse anxieties that make him desperate to blot out his memories by any means necessary.
The movie kicks off a little shapelessly, true to the drifting, detached nature of these men (and the nonfictional 2013 account by David Finkel on which Hall’s screenplay is based); then it snaps to attention too quickly in a third-act criminal subplot that feels tidy. But these anguished performances go a long way, as does the film’s peripheral vision of a banal, depressed America that threatens to forget its warriors. Strip malls gleam bleakly and government offices offer little in the way of help; potential jobs include mowing grass at a golf course in between popping Klonopins and playing video games. That overall setting of dingy homes and terrified wives (including a standout Haley Bennett) is what stays with you: After fighting for an ideal, these characters return home to a country that can barely rouse itself to care. In that sense, 'Thank You for Your Service' is as necessary as top-flight journalism.