Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Film Review by Lisa Jewell
Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Joe Alwyn, Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Chris Tucker, Steve Martin
Writer: Jean-Christophe Castelli, based on the novel by Ben Fountain
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk tells the story of Bravo Squad, who are on a short trip home from their posting in Iraq during Thanksgiving 2004. Billy Lynn is the protagonist and our viewpoint through the film – from the morning that he wakes up in his hotel bed to the very last frame on screen. He’s a 19-year-old Texan guy and, from the look of things, has had a fairly ordinary life complete with a couple of run-ins with the law. But we see through flashbacks to his time in Iraq that he is beginning to distinguish himself as a military man, culminating in heroic action in combat.
This heroism is the reason why Bravo squad are called home. The film covers pretty closely to real time their experience at a Thanksgiving Day football game in Dallas, where they are put on parade during the halftime show and held up as symbolic figures. And hence the title, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
There are moments in the film when it feels like an Ang Lee film, where it resonates just like Brokeback Mountain did. There are times when it works best when less is said and more is implied through visual shots. But at other times, it feels like just another mainstream blockbuster movie. That’s the main issue I find with the film – that the style is a bit bland and directionless and thereby becomes formulaic. That’s not to say that it’s not a good film – it’s just that with an Ang Lee film, expectations are probably set a little higher and with war films, so much has already been well expressed, in the vein of Three Kings, Born on the Fourth of July etc.
The central message of the film comes across clearly – that heroism can be hijacked by anyone for their own needs. Steve Martin’s character Norm Oglesby, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, plays this out as he hitches his commercial marketing wagon to the iconography of brave young American soldiers.
The film also delves into the politics of war – that there is no simple good vs evil at play, no matter how spin doctors and the media may sometimes play that out. The soldiers themselves are fully aware of the reality of this ‘War on Terror’. The film also depicts personal sacrifice, brotherhood and growing up (some familiar Ang Lee themes).
The film is pacey and Lee uses new technology, shooting at an ultra-high frame rate which gives it a visual intensity. Joe Alwyn as Billy Lynn and Garrett Hedlund as Sgt Dime are the standout stars of the cast and Vin Diesel acquits himself well in his role as Sgt Breem. Kirsten Stewart is pretty awful in this film to be honest. And I’m not one of those Kirsten Stewart haters – I thought she was good in Café Society and Still Alice. But she irritated me in her role (as Billy’s sister) and it feels like she’s just phoning it in with her blank facial expressions.
In summary, it feels like Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk has all the components to work as a stirring film about war and homecoming. But it doesn’t come together in any way that is exceptional or memorable .Sadly, it’s a case of good but could do better.