BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK (USA | UK | China/15A/113mins)
Directed by Ang Lee. Starring Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker, Kristen Stewart
THE PLOT: On returning from Iraq after earning the Silver Star for valour in combat, Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) and his squadron are sent on tour around the US, culminating in an appearance at the NFL Thanksgiving Game in 2004, with Destiny’s Child. Through flashback, the audience learns just what happened on the day that Lynn is being hailed for, and the inner conflicts he is struggling with, when considering whether or not to go back to Iraq.
THE VERDICT: Based on Ben Fountain’s satirical noel of the same name, ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ lacks the satire that made the book such a success, and in trying to tell several strands of Billy’s story over the course of one day, the film goes from a satire on the commerciality of war and the flag waving nature of America, to a mish mash of stories that really ends up saying nothing.
Joe Alwyn leads the cast as the titular Billy Lynn; compared to the rest of the troop, Lynn comes across as quiet and thoughtful, and even though the film tries to labour the point that Lynn is suffering from PTSD, this never really comes across. Alwyn is fine in the role, but he is really more of a plot point than a character, as others talk at him, and things happen around him but rarely seem to actually affect him. Steve Martin plays a charming but greedy billionaire, Garrett Hedlund plays the loud and strict Sergeant Dime, Chris Tucker plays the man trying to get the squadron a movie deal, Kristen Stewart plays Lynn’s sister Kathryn, who spouts anti-war sentiments that were perhaps fresh at the time in 2004, but feel staid and unoriginal. The rest of the cast features Vin Diesel, Makenzie Leigh, Tim Blake Nelson and Elizabeth Chestang as a faux-Beyonce.
Screenwriter Jean-Christophe Castelli makes his debut with ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’, although he has worked with Ang Lee in the past, as associate producer on ‘Life of Pi’, and researcher on ‘The Ice Storm’. It seems that Castelli struggled to translate the trademark satire from novel to screen, leaving ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ feeling as though it is trying to address everything at once, but ends up actually shining a new or interesting light on nothing at all. The dialogue is expository and uninspired, and the awkward and clunky flashbacks in the film are jarring and do not flow at all. As well as this, there is little dramatic arc in the film, and it seems as though none of the characters learn or grow through their experiences.
As director, Ang Lee plays up the contrast between the decadence of the US and the poverty of the people of Iraq – not so artfully done with flashback – and the stereotypical Americanness of Thanksgiving, football, spectacle and the troops. There is a sequence that feels as though it is hitting the mark, when Lynn and his colleagues find them onstage with Destiny’s Child as dancers gyrate around them, but this is a fleeting moment, after which this biting criticism fades away. As well as this, casting a faux-Beyonce – as well as the rest of Destiny’s Child – does not work on screen. It is so obvious that the most powerful popstar in the world – who recently broke Instagram records with her pregnancy announcement – was not involved in the film at all, as to be laughable. The performances in the film are hit and miss, Garrett Hedlund is about the only actor who comes out unscathed, and Kristen Stewart’s performance is so wooden, it feels as though it hails from her ‘Twilight’ days, as she has greatly grown as an actress since then. The pacing is a mess, and the awkward flashbacks ruin any flow the film manages to create.
In all, ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ is a film that tries to be scathing and satirical, but in trying to address too many issues throughout the film, it goes from having the potential to say something new and interesting to a messy, badly paced, heavy handed and unengaging film that fails to deliver on the promise of its one moment of greatness.
RATING: 1/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Ang Lee’s wartime drama Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is getting a very limited release here, having bombed in America. Stripped of its apparently ‘retina-blistering’ (Empire’s words) 120fps 3D frame rate for a regular release here, the film has to be judged without its revolutionary, immersive technology. The result is a rare misfire for Lee – the type of film that he precisely shouldn’t be making.

    It’s 2004 and Billy (Joe Alwyn) is a solider who has returned home to Texas with Dime (Garrett Hedlund) and the rest of unit from a harrowing tour of duty in Iraq. His commanding officer, Sergeant Shroom (Vin Diesel) died in the firefight, in an apparent act of bravery committed by Billy. He has a close relationship with his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart), but holds back on telling her what happened. Billy is brought home to do a victory halftime walk at the Thanksgiving Day football game in a packed stadium. Billy is being raised up as an all-American hero, in that extravagant, showy way that only Americans seem to know. But the reality of what happened that day in the killing field of Iraq is contrasted what the media and America thinks happened, prompting much soul-searching for Billy…

    While the move towards pushing the boundaries of film technology is admirable, Lee hasn’t anchored the film on a story that is worthy of it. Adapted from the Ben Fountain book by Jean-Christophe Castelli, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a bit of a long walk itself. It’s a muddled story that is taken from Lee’s perspective – i.e. that of an outsider. He’s been a keen observer of American attitudes, perceptions and mores befores (think The Ice Storm or Brokeback Mountain). However, he seems to have got stuck in this particular story, unable to find a way to make it relevant even for a non-American audience. The problem lies mostly in the idea of contrasting wartime reality versus media perception. We live in an era of apparent biased reporting (i.e. Fox News) and so-called ‘fake news’. Anyone with a phone can take to Twitter and be an accurate on-the-ground journalist these days – just look at the Arab Spring.

    Billy Lynn’s story feels like a story that should have been made a decade ago, although the book was published in 2012. Lee just can’t seem to get a handle on it and the satirical tone of the book. Perhaps someone like Oliver Stone would be more edgy and adventurous. There are some good points about the film though. Lee captures the over-the-top razzmatazz of the halftime show with well-staged choreography. In his film debut, British actor Alwyn holds his presence, an ocean of calm looking bemused and strangely disaffected by the whole shebang. Stewart continues to build on her solid work recently and Hedlund provides strong support. Less impressive is Steve Martin, who seems to have been plonked into the film for no real reason. With or without the technology gimmick, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that the film is misjudged and that Lee is in over his head here. Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk is unlikely to appeal to many and is for Lee completists only. **

  • dainiux79

    Ang Lee will try anything. In Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk that unfortunately includes our patience.