Do not expect to feel all warm and fuzzy about Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
Yes, director Ang Lee’s latest big screen spectacle is about a homecoming tour of triumph. Yes, the screenplay of Jean-Christophe Castelli based on the novel of the same name by Ben Fountain tackles the theme of hero soldiers returning from the war in Iraq for a day in the American spotlight like no other.
It is deep. It is colorful. And this 1-hour, 50-minute film is a complex piece of storytelling full of fine performances by a cast that convinced me so surely that yes, this war of theirs surely was hell. Over there, and back here, too.
Joe Alwyn stands out as Billy Lynn, a young man from Texas who enlisted, we find out through a confessional over there to his superiors in Iraq, when he flew off in a rage at his big sister’s boyfriend, who turned out to be the kind of man who’d ditch his fiancé after a car accident caused her multiple stitches on her torso and face. A judge said serve time or your country after Billy’s rearranged the cad’s car.
Vin Diesel and Garrett Hedlund shine as the kind of officers who are tough on a kid like this, but listen and know that he’s got the stuff they need inside and out.
The Iraq scenes take place in flashbacks. The story centers around one day in the life of Bravo company back home in the USA. Billy Lynn starts out back in the family house, where Kristen Stewart gets to make the most of her scenes as that war protesting, protective big sis who sees what the time over there has done to her younger brother.
Then he rejoins his company as they are marched to and around the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium for a day full of never-forget moments that lead up to a halftime show with Destiny’s Child on a big stage. (Don’t hold your breath for Beyoncé moment beyond a blonde side look, by the way.)
Chris Tucker gets to play a fast-talking major attempting to strike a film deal for their heroics, of which Billy Lynn was the main man, and Steve Martin landed the job to handle the smarmy Cowboys owner, and both do admirably. But star No. 2 is Cowboys cheerleader Faison Zorn, who catches Billy Lynn’s eye at the pregame press conference and pulls him aside for a private flirt that could change both of their lives. Makenzie Leigh and Alwyn burst with immediate gee-whiz, aw-shucks, gotta-blush chemistry.
Through the afternoon, the relationship of Billy Lynn and Bravo with so many Americans is at the heart of this story. What do we really think of the troops and they of us when they get back? It’s not always pretty underneath all of the surface talk, is it?
As squirmy as I was made to feel by all the prickly aspects in these dilemmas, I was nevertheless surprised to see that four of the nine folks in the theater with me at the start of the 4:10 p.m. showing in the small Regal Cinemas theater at Syracuse mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA get up and leave during the showing. Feeling the loss of one of your own, killing up close with your own hands, the mysteries and horrors of PTSD, yes, ugly and horrifying, all. Yet Billy Lynn’s long halftime walk and all that it signifies in our country hooked me, good.
Do you think soldiers, real or dress-up, should be used during entertainment skits at halftime shows for sporting events? Do you think soldiers back from serving want to talk about the experience to strangers in passing? What’s your favorite Ang Lee movie, and why?