After the success screenwriter Jason Hall (“Paranoia,” “Spread”) achieved with “American Sniper” (2014), he decided to return to the genre for his directorial debut, “Thank You For Your Service” (2017).
The film’s true story follows Sgt. Adam Schumann’s (Miles Teller) homecoming from war and his struggle to return to civilian life while dealing with traumatic memories from battle, namely of an injured soldier and friend with a bleeding head wound who Schumann dropped while carrying down a flight of stairs.
The PHOENIX sat down with Schumann, Hall and Teller to discuss the film and America’s treatment of its military veterans.
Hall said adapting Chris Kyle’s autobiography for “American Sniper” was quite different from adapting David Finkel’s (“The Good Soldiers”) biography of Adam Schumann, “Thank You For Your Service.”
“[‘American Sniper’] was a guy telling his own story,” Hall said. “[‘Thank You For Your Service’] is told by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist … it was a lot more thoroughly researched.”
The most difficult part of telling true stories for Hall is finding the “why” behind the stories.
“The challenge is to find meaning in someone’s life,” Hall said. “It doesn’t matter if incredible things happened if those things don’t add up to anything.”
The purpose behind “Thank You For Your Service,” according to Hall, is to help people understand veterans’ hardships as they return home, a process Schumann described as incredibly confusing and difficult.
“[Soldiers] are in this tight-knit group that [they] live with 24/7,” Schumann said. “[They] know everything about each other, from the size of their underwear to the smell of their farts. When [they] come home, everything is stripped of [them] — the sense of who [they] were is gone. [They’re] lost, trying to find who [they] are again. [They’re] trying to battle with what [they] dealt with and what [they] saw. It’s just very confusing.”
When Schumann returned home, he said he had nightmares and panic attacks because of the culture shock.
“I’d go to the bathroom and immediately reach over for my rifle,” Schumann said. “I’d start freaking out and start throwing the bed sheets up. You know that fear when you lose your wallet? Take that times 10.”
When David Finkel first met Schumann in Iraq and then approached him about writing a book about his experience, Schumann was “pissed [Finkel] was even in [his] room.” He soon came around to the journalist, however, and the two became quite close.
“David [Finkel] is an amazing human,” Schumann said. “It was almost like having my own personal therapist. I could talk to him about things I couldn’t even talk to my wife about … He’s a big reason I’m still here.”
Hall and Teller understood the responsibility that came with telling Schumann’s story, which Teller said was difficult to navigate at first.
“The most nervous I felt was on the plane ride up to meet Adam [Schumann] for the first time,” Teller said. “It felt invasive.”
Despite Teller’s nerves, Schumann never felt he or Hall ever crossed the line. Schumann said he “always felt comfortable” around both men. He and Teller quickly became friends and after their conversations, Teller said he understood the story he needed to convey.
“[Hollywood has] plenty of dudes playing bad—es and shooting guns,” Teller said. “This is the human side of it, the cost of it, the true sacrifice of it.”
“Thank You For Your Service” is unique in that it doesn’t focus on warfare, but rather the effects of it. Teller isn’t seen shooting guns in the film nearly as often as he’s seen sitting in the waiting room for his veteran benefits or trying to connect with his children.
Schumann said he still finds transitioning to civilian life difficult, largely due to America’s policies and actions around veterans. To date, over 540,000 veterans have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, including Schumann.
“It’s still a broken system, but there’s been improvements in certain areas,” Schumann said. “It’s getting better, not by leaps and bounds, but I think [stories] like this are going to fuel the fire and get that conversation going.”
“Thank You For Your Service” is clearly looking to start a conversation, and for the most part it’s successful. While not as compelling or provocative as “American Sniper,” the film is an adequate account of a military homecoming, and will make audiences think about what they’re saying the next time they shake a veteran’s hand.
“Thank Your For Your Service” opens in theaters nationwide Oct. 27.