For all the talk that “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is less about Billy and more about the squad of soldiers, Ang Lee’s film doesn’t really depict it that way. After all, the title itself has Billy Lynn’s name in it, so the misdirection is a little off-putting. The film has a lot to say about the job of soldiering, about war, and heroism, but the way in which the messages are delivered fall by the wayside. Nicely put, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” isn’t one of Lee’s best.
Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is back in the United States, along with his soldier unit–code-name Bravo–for a victory tour. After a video of the nineteen-year-old coming to the rescue of his fallen comrade (Vin Diesel) while under heavy fire in Iraq went viral, Billy and his team were invited to do press and appear during a Thanksgiving football game halftime show. The film, told through a series of flashbacks and current events (the film takes place in 2004), is a cacophony of motion, sound, and moments that feel out of place and oddly disjointed.
Billy goes home to see his family and, most importantly, his sister (Kristen Stewart). She is part of the reason he enlists, but it’s not for any obvious reasons. She tries to convince him to see someone for his PTSD, which can get him an honorable discharge and the opportunity to come back home–they go back and forth on the subject throughout the film. When Billy’s with the rest of the soldiers, they’re traipsed around the football stadium the day of the game. A talkative Hollywood agent (Chris Tucker) is busy trying to land them a movie deal and the Dallas Cowboys owner (Steve Martin) keeps telling them how brave they are. With all that they’ve been through, the entire experience proves to be too much for Billy and the squad.
The title is a misrepresentation of the film. The halftime walk is approximately less than ten minutes of screen time. However, in that time, the film manages to interpret everything the rest of the movie cannot. The halftime show is all loud noise, music, Destiny’s Child singing and dancing, and a live marching band. To Billy and the rest, it’s a sensory overload. There are firecrackers going off and so much is happening that the audience will feel just as confused and overwhelmed by it all. And this all the point, to encompass the symptoms of PTSD and the strange use of soldiers being paraded around in the midst of a celebration. All the glitz and glamour, the ruckus and over-stimulation feel inappropriate and the soldiers realize that they have no place in that moment of fame.
Newcomer Joe Alwyn does a decent job for his first time out. While he doesn’t carry the movie on his own, he’s still very much the center of it. The rest of the cast–which includes a stern Garrett Hedlund, Astro, and Ben Platt–offer enough support for Alwyn to play off of. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t really help very much and most of the dialogue is hard to bear in many instances. In that same vein, the romance between Billy and Faison (Makenzie Leigh) is terribly forced, often cringe-worthy, and largely inauthentic.
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” dramatizes war, but in certain moments when it’s honest and thoughtful, the film does stand out, even when its commentary is sometimes too on-the-nose. The film culminates when, during a final scene, Billy refuses a movie deal if the rest of his friends don’t get what he’s getting in regards to attention and money. This seems ironic given the fact that, while Billy’s squad is featured throughout the film, they are largely sidelined. Ang Lee deems to make a poignant film, but it is bogged down by too many subplots, bad dialogue, and a general lack of cohesiveness.
With "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," Ang Lee deems to make a poignant film, but it is bogged down by too many subplots, bad dialogue, and a general lack of cohesiveness.