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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Thank You for Your Service

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “Jigsaw” are also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

War is hell. That’s well known. What’s less well known is that the transition from the battlefield back into civilian life can also be hell. As “Thank You for Your Service” shows us, it’s not only hell for the veterans returning from war, it is hell for their families as well.

The movie starts off following a trio of pals: Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller) and his best friends Solo (Beulah Koale) and Waller (Joe Cole). At one point there was a fourth member in the group, named Emory (Scott Haze). What happened to Emory and how it relates to Schumann, Solo, and their commanding officer, Doster (Brad Beyer), is at the heart of the troubles faced by these men as they struggle with getting used to home life.



Upon their return home, they reconnect with the women in their lives, but something isn’t right. Waller goes home to an empty house and no one to greet him. Schumann and Cole find that they are there physically but aren’t there mentally. They are all prone to flashbacks as well as fits of melancholy and uncontrollable rage. A scene in which Solo literally breaks apart the walls of his house with his bare hands, causing his pregnant wife Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) to lock herself in the bedroom, is a frightening and powerful one. The three men are happiest when they are with each other, but this is a superficial happiness masking mental wounds, and it doesn’t last very long. Out of the protective bubble of each other’s company, the real world becomes almost as traumatizing as Iraq.

“Thank You for Your Service” takes place circa 2007, and it highlights the problems with the Veterans’ Affairs (VA) hospitals at the time. Schumann and Solo seek help for what they are going through but find that the hospital is overcrowded and understaffed. Schumann is told that it could be four to five months before he is able to see anyone to receive treatment. His reaction is appropriate and justified, seeing how he—and so many others like him who served our country and asked for so relatively little in return—need help now.

It’s a blight on the United States of America that for so long our veterans had a difficult time seeking the care they need. The suicide rate among veterans is the highest when compared to any other group in the country—a fact that is touched upon in a very personal way in “Thank You for Your Service.” Making matters worse is that the troubles faced by veterans are hard for the veterans to talk about. They do their best to put on a happy face while struggling inside. Schumann’s wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) doesn’t find out the truth about what her husband is feeling until she stumbles across a VA mental health questionnaire that he filled out. His answers are bone chilling, sad, and I will extrapolate, far too common.


Schumann gets word of a treatment facility in California that is specifically designed to help veterans cope with their mental and emotional anguish and make a transition to civilian life. After all of the struggles shown on screen in “Thank You for Your Service,” the final message is an upbeat and optimistic one. There is hope, and there are places out there that will take care of our veterans and treat them properly.

However, it is still a sad commentary that the VA, which is the government agency tasked with this care, did such a poor job. But there is change in the air for the VA too. It’s two weeks ago today, on January 9, 2018, that President Trump signed an executive order (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-takes-care-veterans-battlefront-home-front/) that addresses the very problems shown in this movie. Once his order is fully implemented, there should be far less stories like that of Sergeant Schumann in “Thank You for Your Service.” Rent it.

Also New This Week

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is an odd movie filled with odd characters. The oddest of them is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a sociopathic sixteen year old who blames heart surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) for the death of his father. Unfortunately for Dr. Murphy, he finds out the kid is a sociopath too late after sympathizing with Martin and getting to know the young man. As it turns out, Martin has some harsh ideas about balancing the score in life.

Part of the oddness is the direction of Yorgos Lanthimos, who also directed 2015’s brilliant and absurd “The Lobster,” also starring Farrell. All of the characters in the movie have a straightforward way of speaking. There’s a forcefulness and lack of intonation that is almost robotic. Characters also give a lot of background information and provide a lot of details in what they say. Rather than being off-putting, it actually works very well as a style. I think this is a case where it has to be all or nothing. If only some of the characters in the movie acted and talked this way, it runs a high risk of seeming like bad acting. When they all do it, the result is quirky and charming—even if the subject matter of the movie isn’t so quirky and charming.


In spite of some great dialogue and brilliant direction, the plot is where “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” falls short for me. After Martin drops a bombshell of a reveal on Steven, why are the police not involved immediately? Steven and his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) did nothing wrong and have nothing to hide, yet Anna’s reaction to the idea of calling the cops is they shouldn’t do it because “what’s the point?” Huh—is she kidding? It’s moments like this where I want to jump through the screen to give a character a piece of my mind and rattle off a few reasons why calling the cops does have a point. She makes another decision later in the movie, with the same justification, that drove me nuts too. Luckily on that one, Steven gave her a piece of his mind for me.

Questionable, frustrating decisions with no plausible reasons for them aside, the movie does get a bit sluggish for about half an hour or so as it spins its wheels a bit. This all leads to a brutal, gut wrenching conclusion and a head scratcher of a final scene. When the movie was over, I was left struggling to find the meaning in what I just watched—or at least a satisfying explanation as to how and why the events that transpired in this movie were able to transpire. Sadly, I came up with nil. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a brilliant exercise in style, but in spite of all of its pretensions, the substance is sorely lacking. Stream it.

Jigsaw

“Jigsaw” delivers everything we’ve come to expect from a movie in the “Saw” franchise. It’s got a less than reputable police officer (Callum Keith Rennie) hunting down the killer, who he believes to be the infamous title character played once again by Tobin Bell. There are elaborate Rube Goldberg meets Marquis De Sade death traps, grisly demises, and a cast whose screen test must have been for them to scream the loudest and act the most panicked in order to win the part.

The problem with “Jigsaw” is that this is the eighth movie in the franchise so it has to up the ante. As a result, it’s a bit too clever for its own good. The death devices rely too much on chance and stretch the credibility too far. I couldn’t help but ask myself during one scene, “What if that character didn’t make that decision and do it that way—then what?” The plot also suffers from the same absurdity. Here is a note I took that will make sense (in a manner of speaking) to those who choose to watch this movie: “Coma guy in casket—wtf??” Given the timeline of events in this movie—and how crucial they always are—how is this possible?

There is also an editing issue in which a tense, suspenseful scene is happening, but rather than letting it play out, the movie cuts to another scene, usually involving the cop. This completely undercuts all of the heart pounding anxiety that the suspense scene built up and completely kills all momentum. This is a horror movie, the focus should be on the horror, and it should be edited as such. “Jigsaw” is edited more like an ensemble piece with all of the cutting back and forth, rather than like a horror movie.

I don’t know if it’s the over- (or under-, hard to tell) thought cleverness, or the fact that I’ve seen all of the previous “Saw” movies and many others of their ilk, but I guessed the killer pretty much straight away. I did not, however, guess the big twist at the end that explains what we just watched. I regarded it with a mixture of feelings. On the one hand, I thought it was pretty clever. On the other hand, I thought it was kind of cheap. Though it should be noted that in all honesty, I felt the same way about the big reveal at the end of the first “Saw” movie.

“Jigsaw” doesn’t re-invent the franchise in any way. It’s a fairly safe movie that provides decent fan service, but the misguided editing and nonsensical plot certainly bring it down a few pegs. Stream it.

More New Releases: “Geostorm,” Dean Devlin movie about a man who heads to space to prevent climate-controlling satellites from creating a storm of epic proportions while his brother discovers a plot to assassinate the president, starring Gerard Butler, Katheryn Winnick, Abbie Cornish, and Ed Harris; and “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” a behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne, starring Margot Robbie and Domhnall Gleeson.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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