Review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Directed by: Ang Lee | 113 minutes | drama, war | Actors: Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Arturo Castro, Mason Lee, Astro, Beau Knapp, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Barney Harris, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker, Kristen Stewart, Makenzie Leigh, Ben Platt, Bruce McKinnon, Deirdre Lovejoy, Laura Lundy, Tim Blake Nelson

“It’s sort of weird, being honored for the worst day of your life.”

That’s the premise of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Billy Lynn is a soldier who gains national attention through heroic actions in Iraq. His attempt to save a colleague was caught on camera, and in patriotic America, it earned him instant hero status. The pinnacle of that veneration must occur during the halftime of an American football game over Thanksgiving. The setting couldn’t be more American. Within this setting, the film follows Billy and his comrades as they prepare for their ceremony and flashbacks show the events in Iraq.

‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ is a war movie in that sense, and like almost all war movies, it’s really a movie against war. This is also clearly the message that Ang Lee wants to convey. And that only partially succeeds. Within this already layered story, Lee wants to score too much with what war does to young boys in particular and how hypocritical Americans actually are when it comes to war. On the one hand, the soldiers are praised to heaven to take their heroic actions for granted on the other. As a movie’s central message, that’s clear, but Lee puts that message into every subplot of the movie. That makes it a bit of a mess. The main characters are therefore just not believable enough, the supporting roles have the same problem and the love element in the story is far from fascinating.

Does this make ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ a bad movie? Just not that either. The close-knit group of comrades knows how to captivate enough to be able to invest emotionally in their story. The flashbacks certainly contribute to that and keep the film interesting for the most part. The frequency of the flashbacks is only out of balance with the actual story of the celebration. The climax of this, Billy’s exploits in Iraq, comes too early in the story. Lee probably chose this to make the tribute the central point of the story. There is actually just too little going on for that. The ultimate choice Billy has to make at the end is not surprising and even feels a bit obligatory.

Where Lee scored big with other films (‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Life of Pi’), ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ does not seem to be here to stay. With everything that was going on in America with Trump and his associates at the time of release, a war-critical film feels a bit less relevant and this film is also just not convincing enough in its criticism.

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