Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk Review
AN EXPERIMENTAL AND NOBLE MISFIRE
During most sporting events (at least in the United States, which is where I’m from), the stadium honors those who serves in our armed services (current, veterans, etc.) from all military branches with spectators given a standing ovation to “pay their respects” to duty. It’s an interesting notion, one that’s respectful for their bravery and sacrifice, and yet many do not know their life stories (backgrounds) nor the horrors and plights that they face while in the services. Now, Sony Pictures and director Ang Lee, prepare to shed some light on such individual in the film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, based off of Ben Fountain’s book of the same name. Does this movie standing to attention or is it too “at ease” in capturing the essence of a young soldier’s life?
It’s Thanksgiving Day in the year 2004, and Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is a member of the eight-man military unit, Bravo Squad. Hailed as a hero for his efforts in a recent skirmish in the Iraq War, Billy and the men of Bravo are sent on a victory tour to boost the nation’s morale, ending their promoting journey at a special Thanksgiving Day football game in Dallas where they’re will participate in the halftime show, along with Destiny’s Child. Suffering from PTSD, distraught by memories of his philosophical commanding officer, Shroom (Vin Diesel), who recently died in battle, Billy tries to work up the enthusiasm to partake in the day’s festivities. However, while he and his fellow comrades are enjoying themselves, overseeing by Bravo’s leader, Sgt. Dime (Garrett Hedlund), Billy’s patience is tested by Albert (Chris Tucker, a Hollywood producer trying to Bravo’s Squad’s tale into a big feature movie, Faison (Makenzie Lee, a Cowboy’s cheerleader who takes a shine to the young soldier, and Norm Oglesby (Steve Martin, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys who has his own personal agenda with Bravo. To make matters worse, Billy’s mind is also filled with thoughts of his recent trip back home to hometown in Texas, recalling his older sister Kathryn’s (Kristen Stewart) efforts to talk him out of military service.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Yes, I go to several sporting events (mostly football games and some basketball games) and I do standing and clap when they stadium honors any type of armed services soldiers. I can’t really say that anything about the armed service as I am a “civilian”, but I do highly respect them all (past, present, and future) for the bravery and their “call to duty”. Personally, I was excited to see Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. I remember seeing the trailers for it and was definitely intrigued to see, especially hearing Scala and Kolacny Brothers’s rendition of the song “Heroes” playing throughout the trailers. I was so interested in seeing this movie (when it came out) that I actually bought Ben Fountain’s book and read it prior to see the feature film. Unfortunately, after seeing the movie, I felt it was a bit mediocre as Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is stylish and interesting, but is an experimental film that lacks guidance and a strong emphasis on its palpable ambitions.
Billy Lynn is directed by Ang Lee, who is mastermind director behind such movies as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Life of Pi. At its heart, Billy Lynn is a “coming-of-age” story, following the character of Billy (with Bravo Squad) on throughout Thanksgiving Day as Billy face a personal crossroads about his life and about what he must do next. In addition, the movie highlights several poignant ideas about those who serve in the armed forces and the meaning behind the word of “patriotism”. As I said above, I’m not a soldier nor served in my nation’s armed services, so I really can’t say what’s appropriate, but I do know the difference between patriotism and the somewhat “hollow” patriotism that some people give. You what I mean…there are those who really do support the troops (and their services) and then there are those who think they support the troops by making grand gestures and empty thanks and praises. The movie also (as well as the book) is a kind of sociological perspective that’s show through the eyes of Billy Lynn, showcasing issues of war and society back home treats soldiers and viewpoints of the current war.
Given that I read the book, I knew what was going to happen (from start to finish), so some of these things didn’t bother (as much), but they’re still worth noting. While the film’s message and social commentary message is poignant, the film itself is pretty bland. The narrative didn’t bother me, but rather Lee’s theatrical presentation. There were plenty of flashbacks that were interwoven into the main story thread, viewing various points of Billy’s life that meant something to the young adult. However, these flashbacks were a bit choppy. Yes, the book did the flashbacks as well, but not as numerous as the film did, which makes Billy Lynn feel a bit uneven its presentation.
Another problem is in Lee’s experimental vision for crafting this movie. Being touted as “the next evolution step” in moviemaking, Billy Lynn is (on a technical level) was filmed in a higher frame rate (120 frames per second as opposed to the standard 24 frames per second) as well in 4K 3D. Lee describes this as a new cinematic experience that’s supposed to be more immersive between the movie and its viewers. However, while marvelous feat in filmmaking, most viewers of Billy Lynn will not see the way it was meant to be seeing as most will see the film in the regular 2D format. Because of this, for all its “pomp and circumstance”, Lee’s grandiose technical wizardry for Billy Lynn is rendered a “moot” point. You can definitely see this in the movie as there were several flashy sequences and a lot of POV (point of view) shots that were meant for 3D effects in a way to mimic a VR simulation. Unfortunately, the technology Lee used hasn’t quite made his way to the masses of mainstream movie theaters (only a handful of theaters utilizing the film’s true format). Thus, for all tense and purposes, Billy Lynn is an experiential feature. Whether that will be help or cripple the film’s overall appeal (in the long run) is still unclear.
However, what did bother me was (at various points) that the movie itself felt somewhat “disconnected” to reality. A bit of a confusing statement, but let me explain. As I stated above in the “The Story”, Billy Lynn takes place on Thanksgiving Day at a professional football game. The team is clearly meant to be the Dallas Cowboys, with several illusion nuances to the real team (even mentioning the building a brand-new stadium). However, it becomes apparent that neither the NFL (National Football League) nor the Dallas Cowboys football organization gave their blessing / licensing for Billy Lynn, with several altercations being made in the film’s football aesthetic. This includes, the changing of the Dallas’s logo (it’ still a star, but the same design / color scheme is different), the team’s fans out apparel (its blue and white, but again the color scheme is changed. It actually looks like Indianapolis Colts color scheme), and even the football players are not dressed in the standard Cowboy’s uniform. In truth, the only connection that Billy Lynn has to the actual real life NFL is in the small cameo appearances of Seattle Seahawk’s cornerback Richard Sherman and Houston Texan’s defensive end JJ Watt, playing two unnamed Cowboy football players.
The same problem occurs during the halftime show, when Bravo Squad is designated to participate in the event, with the musical group Destiny’s Child (again the film is set in 2004, so the group was still together). With only camera angles shots from behind or from the side or having their faces blocked by their hair, it becomes painfully obvious that from the get-go that three members of the group are not the actually Beyonce, Kelly, and Michelle, but rather actresses portraying the group. This, of course, like the football aspect, somewhat squashes the film’s believable reality. However, I hardly doubt that Ang Lee could get Destiny’s Child to reunite and perform in Billy Lynn.
Playing the main character of the feature, actor newcomer Joe Alywn makes his feature debut as Bill Lynn. Alywn looks the and acts the part of Billy, a southern small town young man who is humble and kind-hearted, who is overwhelmed by his current situation. The character of Billy is an interesting because (for the most part) he is a blank slate, with the idea of viewers to project themselves on, but Alwyn does give a good job with the material he’s given. Again, he’s making his big-screen debut in this movie, so I can’t really judge him on his past performances.
Perhaps the best in the film’s supporting cast comes from the character of Sgt. David Dime, played by actor Garett Hedlund. Hedlund, known for his roles in Troy, Tron: Legacy, and Country Strong, proves effective as Dime, showing a nice range in his performance (i.e. caring, no-nonsense, and sarcastic). He’s sort of like the tough big brother / parental figure character in Bravo Company, keeping the rest of the squad in line and overseeing their actions. He definitely looks, sounds, and act the part of Dime and does probably the (being convincing) at selling and portraying in all of the supporting cast. Hedlund’s Dime is my favorite character in Billy Lynn. The rest of Bravo Company Squad are not as developed as Billy nor not as commanding as Dime. This includes Arturo Castro as Mango, Ismael Cruz Córdova as Holiday, Barney Harris as Sykes, Mason Lee as Foo, Beau Knapp as Crack, Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley as Lodis, and Allen Daniel as Major Mac. These characters, while not really dynamic are given slight idiosyncrasies to lightly define them. In additional, just as the men of Bravo form a “close knit” bond, so too does the actors as its clearly visible on-screen, creating a brotherly camaraderie amongst them.
In Billy Lynn, two characters play important roles to the young soldier. The first one is Kristen Stewart, who plays Billy’s older sister Kathryn Lynn. Surprisingly, Stewart, most famous for playing the role of Bella Swan in the Twilight movies, does a good job in role of Kathryn and her scenes with Alywn are great as if both are real-life brother and sister. Another person who interacts with Billy (in several poignant scenes) is Vin Diesel’s character of Shroom, Billy’s superior officer who was recently killed in battle. While I do like Diesel as an actor (love him in the Fast & Furious movies) his portrayal of Shroom is a bit odd. Not so much his acting ability, but rather it seems odd to hear Diesel spout off philosophical lines, which is hard to swallow and doesn’t seem believable. Though he looks the part of Shroom, so I guess that sort of balances it out. The rest of the supporting players do good in their roles and lend their individual acting talents when its need. This includes Chris Tucker who plays the “wheeling and dealing” showbiz agent Albert, Steve Martin as the powerful Dallas Cowboy’s owner Norman Oglesby, Makenzie Leigh as the kind and soft-spoken Cowboy’s cheerleader Faison Zorn, and Ben Platt as Josh, the Cowboy’s liaison to the Bravo Squad. Some roles are larger than others, but each one give what they can to these supporting roles.
War, football, Thanksgiving, and the choices of life are presented in the movie Bill Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Director Ang Lee’s newest movie has its heart in the right place, projecting a “coming of age” story onto the big screen with technical wizardry (even though many will not see the film’s original format) and star-studded cast. However, despites its noble intentions, the feature can’t salvage itself from being a mediocre misfire with too many numerous shortcomings to fully project the wholesome story that Lee wanted to achieve in the movie. Personally, it was okay. Some bits were good, but it just felt like an average movie that I might buy one day on Blu-Ray (for a discounted price, of course). As for my recommendation, I would say that Billy Lynn is a solid rental as there isn’t really a super rush to see this movie in theaters. While it isn’t the next exactly the next evolution step in moviemaking that Lee wanted to create, Bill Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is (at the very least) an interesting narrative about the emotional weight behind a young soldier, with the film (and its source material) expressing the differentially viewpoints of “serving in the armed forces” and in “hollowed patriotism”.
3.2 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: November 18th, 2016
Reviewed On: November 24th, 2016
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is rated R for language throughout, some war violence, sexual content, and brief drug usage