Directed by Ang Lee, based on a novel by Ben Fountain and starring newcomer Joe Alwyn and Garrett Hedlund, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk attempts to journey into the mind of a young man who has developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following a tour in Iraq. Hailed as an American war hero for some reason Billy can’t quite seem to figure out, Billy attempts to reconcile what the term, “hero,” means versus the reality of what happened during war.
Billy has just committed a heroic act and he and his unit are swept up into a whirlwind tour around America for parades, television appearances, etc. before returning to Iraq for a second tour. (If only we gave war heroes so much recognition.) This tour raises the question, what and how much does the American government owe someone who has seen combat and put their life on the line? Those who go into combat in defense of our country should certainly make more money than, let’s say, someone who plays with a ball for a living? Right? But that is not the case. So it is a smart juxtaposition when these war heroes are placed directly among professional football players, business men and celebrities during the finale of this big American tour, which features Billy’s unit “performing” at half-time during the Superbowl. This movie expresses many points of view about war and the way we look at it as civilians and as soldiers. With a clear mind or through impairments, Billy has to wade through all these different opinions and questions, and this chaos going on immediately around him, in order to decide whether or not he can go on to fight another day.
There is a lot to like about this movie, like scenes where PTSD is outwardly expressed not only by Billy, but by other Unit members. They are very intense, sudden and sad. The lack of control is frightening. I also loved how this unit appears to become more and more fragile individually while becoming stronger as a unit as the time grows closer for them to return to Iraq.
One big problem I had with this movie is that it has a lot of layers, and those layers get messy at times and the movie loses focus. Jean Christophe Castelli’s first screenwriting effort isn’t so great as there are poorly written and poorly placed scenes that are so distracting they pull you out of the story. I never really got immersed into Billy’s mind, because almost as soon as you were taken there you were back too soon. I wanted more war. Outside of the flashbacks, there were too many distractions; the phone, the girl, the schedule, the agent, the crowd, the hecklers, the 3D, his family, etc. I understand that there was supposed to be a “fast paced,” “urgent” and even “cluttered” aspect to the story telling to intensify the PSTD reactions and help us understand the pressure Billy is under, but some of the details read as overkill that could have been eliminated. We get it. He’s under pressure. No need to go on and on and on with it. This is just a guess as I’ve not read the book, but what may have worked in the novel doesn’t necessarily translate into film well.
The movie has spots where it gets dull. It definitely could have used a good 10 minute cut. Easy for me to say, I know. I didn’t make the movie. I don’t make movies, period. But sometimes that excess causes things to get stale, and that’s what happens here, or at least what happened for me. Billy didn’t have to meet the girl three times, the second or third fight could have been cut. There were obvious scenes that could have been cut to tighten up the movie and make it flow better. It felt as though this movie was forcibly stretched out without good reason.
Shown in 3D and shot in High Frame Rate projection, characters looked like cut out dolls on the screen against a background, and extras were very pronounced and noticeable rather than blending in when they should have. It was odd and felt fake at times. And I personally found the 3D distracting for this particular story and could have done without it here altogether. I feel like shooting and showing in this format took away from the movie and was somehow a bit disrespectful to the serious subject matter.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk earned 6 bloops out of 10. It ’s not bad, but it could have been so much better. The movie is worth seeing because it takes on a subject that needs and deserves so much more attention. I wish the screenplay were better written and I wish Ang Lee had not used technology which seems better suited for more effects-heavy films this time. I wouldn’t recommend you run to the movies to see it but would definitely say catch it streaming when you can. I’m trying to understand the Oscar buzz. Maybe I’m wrong and I’ll change my mind later, but I don’t see it.