Main cast: Joe Alwyn (Billy Lynn), Kristen Stewart (Kathryn Lynn), Chris Tucker (Albert), Garrett Hedlund (Sgt David Dime), Ismael Cruz Cordova (Sgt Holliday), Arturo Castro (“Mango” Montoya), Ben Platt (Josh), Makenzie Leigh (Faison Zorn), Beau Knapp (Crack), Barney Harris (Sykes), Brian “Astro” Bradley (Lodis), Allen Daniel (Major Mac), Randy Gonzalez (Hector), Mason Lee (Foo), Vin Diesel (Shroom), and Steve Martin (Norm Oglesby)
Director: Ang Lee
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is adapted from Ben Fountain’s book of the same name, but from what I understand, this movie injects a more optimistic tone to the whole thing, especially when it comes to our protagonist Billy Lynn’s blossoming relationship with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Faison.
Billy Lynn is back from serving in Iraq. It is 2004, and he is celebrated as a hero after a photo emerged of him holding his mortally wounded friend and fellow soldier Shroom while looking like he’s desperately fighting to protect that man from scummy Iraqi monsters. Well, Billy did run out amidst a rain of bullets to try to save Shroom, and he violently killed a man in the process, and the whole ordeal left him a changed person. Hence, when he is back in America with his buddies of the Bravo Squad unit, and both the military and the media parade the unit around, he begins to feel really disconnected and even disillusioned about the way the country he serves with his life treat her own military personnel. Along for the ride is Albert, a producer who is trying to get a movie deal for the Bravo Squad’s story. Meanwhile, Billy’s sister Kathryn, who is against the Iraq war, is already plotting to have Billy discharged from service due to his PTSD. Billy also falls for Faison, and he begins entertaining the notion of walking away from Bravo Squad to become an ordinary bloke with a chance for romance and family.
This movie is a satirical view of how we tend to place soldiers on impossibly high pedestals while at the same time quick to pull them down if they dare to reveal that they are not superheroes but, rather, people with both good and bad sides. This movie also pokes hard into the ribs of those who zealously takes an anti-war stance and, in the process, demonizes soldiers instead of considering that they, too, are human beings who are doing their jobs rather than being cartoon-like pawns of war mongers. And, at the end of the day, the movie underlines how both factions do a bloody good job in making these soldiers feel that the only place they belong – their “home”, as the Bravo Squad puts it – is the very place that gives them PTSD, grief, and all those scars in their souls, the battlefield itself. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk can be a heartbreaking movie when it hits hard in this way.
But because this movie is directed by Ang Lee, of course it is laden with pretentious “Look at me! I am a very important director” shtick. Chief of those is the tendency to zoom in so close on the faces of the cast, and being that people are usually yelling in your face or having sex with you when you see their face in such a close-up distance, the whole thing can be uncomfortable to watch – especially when it’s Steve Martin’s shiny, plastic, smarmy face in the close-up. I’m not sure when it became a sign of directorial brilliance to try to have a movie resemble a reality TV show as much as possible, but the whole thing just feels gimmicky and unnecessary. Not to mention, there are so many close-ups of Joe Alwyn looking dazed and confused that I start to wonder whether they are saving money by reusing the same close-up shots or something. It’s as if Ang Lee desperately wants me to fall in love with that generic pretty boy by forcing me to look at his face as often as possible.
Also, for movie that focuses so much on the cast’s faces, the movie itself feels unfocused. The script feels very rote, in the sense that when something happens, I can easily predict what will happen next, and sure enough, I’m right. It’s not that the story itself is derivative or generic – it’s the way the movie is scripted and directed that makes it predictable; it’s like watching a bad poker player give away his whole game to his opponents. The movie feels generic despite its premise, and it’s most obvious in the Bravo Squad itself – it is a generic squad of soldier movie stereotypes, and of course, the main characters just have to look like they walk straight out of an Abercrombie and Fitch commercial.
Still, this movie provides some unintentional hilarity when they have “Destiny’s Child” take the stage. Either they couldn’t convince the ladies to get together for this movie, or the insurance people refuse to cover the risk, but the movie just has three ladies wearing wigs and strutting the stage – filmed from the rear, as if there is any remote possibility that these ladies could ever be mistaken for the real thing. Still, Mr Lee tries to make up for the lack of star power in this movie by zooming in on their rear ends quite often. See, at least the zooming in filming device can be quite democratic here – male faces and female rear ends are all covered!
There is a good story in here, but ultimately, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk resembles a Hallmark movie that, just like its protagonist, seemed to have walked onto the big screen by accident while being all dazed and confused.