FILM REVIEW – BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK. With Joe Alwyn, Makenzie Leigh, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker. Written by Jean-Christophe Castelli. Directed by Ang Lee. Rated R for language throughout, some war violence, sexual content, and brief drug use. 110 minutes.
A group of soldiers are noted for fighting a dramatic battle and are brought home for a “victory tour.” They learn that the only ones who get what they’ve been through are each other. This is the plot for “Flags of Our Fathers” (2006) which was set during World War II, and is the same plot for BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK. The new movie is nowhere near as good as the film it mimics, and is as awkward as its title.
Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is the 19-year-old hero of a battle in the Iraq War, and he and the soldiers of Bravo Squad come back to the U.S. to be celebrated, culminating in a garish and tasteless halftime show at a Texas football stadium. Meanwhile an agent (Chris Tucker) is trying to put together a deal for a movie of their battle, the somewhat cold owner of the team (Steve Martin) tries to use them to his own advantage, and poor Billy and the other soldiers find themselves longing for the certainty of the war.
It’s not clear what the point of it all is. If it was to explore the disconnect between the soldiers fighting in Iraq and a country that was barely paying attention to the war, it seems a roundabout way to do it. At the stadium the soldiers are invited to the lush pre-game buffet, and some of the other guests seem appalled at the soldiers chowing down like…, well, soldiers who have been getting their meals out of a can. This seems more about social class than anything else, and one has to wonder whether the wealthy guests have any family members putting their own lives at risk in the Middle East.
The whole movie builds up to the halftime show where the soldiers are little more than props, and are resented by the stadium crew who sees them as more of a bother than as heroes. The one person at the stadium who actually seems to like Billy is Faison (Makenzie Leigh), one of the cheerleaders, but even that gets undercut by the end. Was she using him or is she as awkward as he is in communicating her feelings? The movie doesn’t seem to know.
The stunt casting of Martin, Tucker, Vin Diesel as their sergeant, and Krisin Stewart as Billy’s sister, proves to be as much a distraction as anything else. Putting well known actors in small roles calls more attention to those roles but, again, it’s without any clear purpose. Indeed, the scenes with Stewart make it appear that there is something more going on between brother and sister than her concern about him going back to war.
It’s all as misguided as the special filming process utilized by director Ang Lee who shot this at 120 frames per second (rather than the standard 24 per second rate) which most audiences will never get to see. Reportedly there are only five theaters in the world equipped to show the film as Lee intended. None of them are in Massachusetts. As with everything else connected with “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” we’re left with the question, “What was the point?” Alas, no one seems to know or, if they do, they neglected to put it up on the screen.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.