Review: ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ Is Confused on Its Message

Ari Howorth ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

There is something painful about sitting down at a time when the country is so unsure about its own future and watching a film about the effects that a tour of duty in Iraq can have on a soldier. Too many Americans look back on the Iraq war, but there is not a lot to look favorably on.

Yet, in Ang Lee’s new film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, this general disdain for the war is juxtaposed with a unanimous “support the troops” mentality. While this is an interesting balance of two very conflicting mindsets, the film handles it sloppily and falls somewhere in the middle of both ideas, resulting in what could be defined as a thorough propaganda film.

The film tells the story of Billy Lynn’s (Joe Alwyn) trip back to America with his Bravo Squad from Iraq. After a video surfaced and made the squad appear to be war heroes—not denying that they are—they take a two-week tour across the US, culminating in a Dallas Cowboys halftime show appearance and performance with Destiny’s Child, before they have to return to Iraq. The entire film takes place at the football game and is cut with flashbacks of Lynn’s time in the war, leading up to the mission that brought them their fame.

Joe Alwyn in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.
Joe Alwyn in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

Lynn’s experience at the game is ultimately frustrating. It quickly becomes apparent that this is going to be a showcase of brothers-in-arms comradery, which the film handles well, and the fetishizing of war by the American public—exemplified in               Bravo’s Hollywood agent played by Chris Tucker. These themes are not the problem, and, actually, are the aspects of this story that ring true. The issue is how unrealistic the events that transpire at the game are. This manifests itself in many ways, namely the clear misunderstanding of how Hollywood movie deals transpire as well as in a tasteless sequence in which Lynn becomes romantically involved with a cheerleader.

As previously mentioned, the comradery of the soldiers is the highlight of the film. This is supported by the infectious cast. Newcomer Alwyn is supported by Vin Diesel and Garret Hedlund and the lesser-knowns, who all feel very real. Their I’ve-got-your-back mentality is refreshing—even if it comes to light in a silly fight scene with halftime show bouncers—and their energy is appreciated in an otherwise flat film.

The character of Lynn personifies this flatness. While it is clear that in the source material—a book of the same name—Lynn is a subtle character with his complexities slowly revealing itself, it is not felt in the film. Lynn seems to switch from calmly introverted to electrically energetic quickly, and the original complex is not relayed. This makes for an emotionally inconsistent character who Alwyn delivers to his utmost, but is, ultimately, unable to save. 

Kristen Stewart and Joe Alwyn in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.
Kristen Stewart and Joe Alwyn in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk has the recipe to be a good film. It has Director Ang Lee boasting a wonderful cast—the above names are joined by Steve Martin and Kristen Stewart. It has a story that has the potential to be compelling and socially poignant. It has the never before used frame rate of 120 frames per second—although, it should be noted that this reviewer saw the film in 24 frames per second, so this was not commented on.

And yet, the film fails to inspire. Lee can’t decide if he wants to critique or glorify, and that makes for a confusing film. In the present time, a confusing film about the dangers of war is simply neither necessary nor productive.

Overall Grade: C

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