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In 2004, Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is in Iraq, a member of the Bravo Squad, an eight-man team of soldiers in a fierce firefight when their commanding officer, Shroom (Vin Diesel) rushes the enemy and is hit. Without thinking, Billy leaps from cover and bolts into the hail of bullets and tries to pulls Shroom to safety as an abandoned camera catches him in action. Called a hero, he and the squad are shipped home for a victory tour to raise awareness and support, ending up at a professional football game in Texas, with them meant to participate in the halftime show with Destiny’s Child.
As the day unfolds, Lynn experiences flashbacks of the battle that got him here, and along with his fellow soldiers, who react in varying ways to their return home, encounters a number of people who have themselves, different ways for showing support or not. Always in the peripheral is Albert (Chris Tucker), a Hollywood producer desperately trying cash in on the boy’s momentary fame, Norm (Steve Martin), a team owner who is interested in producing but has made a career out of exploitation, and Faison (Makenzie Lee), a Christian cheerleader who crushes on Billy. Meanwhile, Billy’s sister Kathryn’s (Kristen Stewart), strapped by hospital expenses, makes efforts to get her brother out of the military, as the boys will be re-deployed right after the game. It’s a long walk to the halftime show.
Directed by Ang Lee, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is adapted from the Ben Fountain novel of the same name, and is a curious film as it settles into a number of war tropes that the genre is forced to obey while remaining a bit detached as it can’t really pack the punch it intends. What are we supposed to feel? Using the garish commercialism and spectacle of the football game, civilizations answer to clan warfare against the actual death-filled fight in Iraq, we get hammered by the metaphors, but somehow it doesn’t translate well, and the scenes in the stadium especially, which take up a significant amount of the long runtime feel flat and obvious, like a checklist of emotional ups and downs meant to manipulate. From beautiful girls as inspiration for why we fight to the ignorant lunkheads who have no respect for the soldiers and what they do, we run the gauntlet of clichés to the show itself.
That show, which is full of explosions and fire (and a very poor attempt to hide the fact that the real Destiny’s Child are not there), naturally conjures bad memories for our hero. We learn the real horror of what happened on that battlefield, one that tries to make us better understand more why he doesn’t really see himself as that hero. It’s an admittedly gripping scene in flashback, but the contrast is meant to be ironical or perhaps even satirical and despite the gruesomeness and emotional value it tries to invest, comes at us a little too in your face. Compared to a similar moment in Steven Spielberg‘s Saving Private Ryan, it pales in its potential.
The relationships with Faison, the cheerleader who swoons and wants him to fight and Kathryn, the sister who pleads for him not too, serve as the two ends of the rope that has him in the middle of a tug-of-war that we see from the beginning will have only one winner. Stewart has little to work with but is very good in the small part, the only character in the film that really feels authentic.
The issue is not so much the acting, which is all mostly good, though Alwyn is unfortunately a little bland, but the script, which is heavy-handed and leaves all these characters as one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. The film works far too hard to tug at our heartstrings, with nearly none of it earned, and as such, keeps this a misfire that had great potential for a story about a man who truly suffers from his haunts and returns to a home that doesn’t know what to with him.
Movie description: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a 2016 war drama about a traumatized soldier who returns home a hero to a world he has trouble separating from his actions on the battlefield.
Director(s): Ang Lee
Actor(s): Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Steve Martin, Kristen Stewart
Genre: War Drama