Thank You for Your Service could be a spiritual sequel to American Sniper. The latter — a Clint Eastwood-directed war drama and surprise box-office sensation ($350 million) in 2015 — starred Bradley Cooper as the real-life Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, a decorated war hero who was killed in 2013 by a fellow veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thank You (in theaters Oct. 27) tells a similar story about soldiers returning home from Iraq who struggle to integrate back into family and civilian life. The movie’s first trailer premieres exclusively at usatoday.com.
The film, starring Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Joe Cole, Beulah Koale, Keisha Castle-Hughes and Scott Haze, is written and directed by Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall, who adapted it from journalist David Finkel’s 2013 nonfiction book. Finkel’s time spent embedded with members of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion in Iraq was the basis of his book The Good Soldiers; Thank You checks back in with those who made it home.
Hall was given Thank You by Steven Spielberg, who was initially attached to direct Sniper and asked him to write an adaptation of Finkel’s book for Spielberg to direct. Directing duties eventually went to Hall, who was drawn to the challenge of dramatizing the war at home, having spent time with Kyle before his death and witnessed his gradual readjustment to life off the battlefield firsthand.
“Coming home isn’t just about the boots on the soil: Coming home is a process of returning to self,” Hall says. “I watched (Kyle) finding his way home in the relationship with his wife, as a father to his kids, and as a man. He was murdered … so I felt like that process was cut short. In Finkel’s book, it showed that entire journey. It seemed like the second half of American Sniper.”
The biggest challenge, Hall says, was earning the trust of the book’s real-life subjects, former Army sergeants Adam Schumann (played by Teller) and Michael Emory (Haze), and specialist Tausolo Aieti (Koale).
“These guys aren’t coming home to a bunch of recognition and book deals like Chris Kyle. They’re blue-collar soldiers,” Hall says. “That transition is very hard, and it’s invisible to us, because they’re not celebrated. As soon as they take off the uniform, they’re just the guy pumping gas next to us at the gas station. In a way, their war is stripped from them quicker than a war hero, because it’s not recognized by anyone around them.”
Teller was a natural choice to play Adam, who has a wife, Saskia (Bennett), and two young kids.
“There’s a real comfort and ease and Everyman quality that Miles brings,” Hall says. “There’s a real stoicism and honor to the way he holds himself in this role.”
To prepare for the movie, Teller spent time with Schumann at his home in North Dakota and endured a “hell week” boot camp with his co-stars on Thank You’s Atlanta set run by a SEAL master chief. Snatched comedian Amy Schumer took a similar hands-on approach for her dramatic acting debut playing Amanda Doster, a soldier’s widow who tries to find out how he died in Iraq.
“We were thrilled that she wanted to be involved in what was clearly a smaller role and surprised that she wanted to do that,” Hall says. “But what we learned is that she felt strongly about the story and this cause, and she just wanted to be part of the fabric of telling this story in any way she could. She went out and met Amanda Doster and saw where her husband’s buried, and learned a lot about her and her life.”
Director: Jason Hall
Writers: David Finkel (based on the book by), Jason Hall (screenplay) (as Jason Dean Hall)
Stars: Haley Bennett, Miles Teller, Amy Schumer