The shockingly weak screenplay is one of the many elements that completely ruin “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a disappointingly lousy movie from Oscar winning director Ang Lee (“Life of Pi,” “Brokeback Mountain”). The film gave me the overwhelming feeling that Lee and the majority of his cast were emotionally detached from the subject matter in a way that radiates through to the audience. Something is definitely amiss. Nothing hits home here, and it’s a real shame that I felt a close to zero emotional connection to the story or the characters.
The film (based on the novel by Ben Fountain) is told from the point of view of Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), a 19 year old Private who suddenly finds himself a decorated military hero. After displaying an incredible act of courage on the battlefield in Iraq, Billy and his entire Bravo Squad are flown home to Texas to be paraded around as American heroes, culminating in an appearance at a halftime show during a big Thanksgiving day football game (the ballgame provides the majority of the film’s setting).
In an attempt to take a “seen it all before” war story and make it unique, you have to do more than simply change the setting. This is only one of the areas where the script fails this project’s ambition. Part of the story is told through Billy’s personal flashbacks to the war zone (as viewers would expect, everyday objects and situations remind him of the horrors he’s seen and experienced firsthand). I understand and can appreciate what Lee was trying to do with his juxtaposition of present-day events to connect with battlefield memories, but it’s visually done in a way here that is so obnoxious that it loses all meaning and effectiveness. Plus, it’s been done much, much better in other movies (“Brothers,” “The Hurt Locker”). There’s nothing visionary about this movie, and that’s a real shame.
The acting across the board is rough, including a wholly distracting performance from the miscast Chris Tucker as a Hollywood publicist and the worst Southern accent you’ve ever heard from Steve Martin as a the owner of a football team. Alwyn and Kristen Stewart (as Billy’s sister Kat) are the obvious standouts, but that isn’t saying much because neither are particularly memorable. Shame on any movie that wastes Stewart’s talent.
The rest of the supporting performances range from competent yet boring (Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Arturo Castro) to hokey, dinner theater caricatures (Makenzie Leigh, Tim Blake Nelson). The film feels much like a stage play with a stagnant pacing that is near agonizing to sit through. If you played a drinking game and took a shot whenever there was an extreme close-up of an actor’s face delivering a single tear soliloquy, you’d be drunk far before the film’s halfway point.
The film never finds its true voice and loses its footing early on. If there was a point to this dull exercise, then it was completely lost on me. Is this meant as a dramatic form of satire? A criticism of capitalism, our love for violence, and the American war machine? A rallying cry to enlist? A sentimental family melodrama? A celebration of brotherly love? A patriotic propaganda piece? You’d have to answer “yes” to all of the above.
I appreciate the film’s lofty goals and this negative review is in no way meant as a knock on our military or America’s brave servicemen and servicewomen. I’ve never served in the military but I’ve heard countless stories of how difficult (and at times impossible) it is to acclimate back to life as a civilian after being in combat, and I just wish this important idea for a story had been told in a more effective and worthy manner.
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is a film entirely lacking in both originality and vision. It’s not terrible, but director Ang Lee‘s first movie since “Life of Pi” is surprisingly uninspired. I’ve come to expect more from Lee and, given the level of talent in the cast, it’s quite surprising in its mediocrity.
Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is an Army Specialist who has just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. Billy gained national fame for a heroic rescue of his Sergeant (Vin Diesel) that was captured on camera, and is back at home in the states for the first time since the conflict. He and his unit Bravo Squad are taken on a publicity tour by manager Albert (Chris Tucker), which culminates in his squad’s taking the field during a halftime performance at Cowboy stadium during a football game.
“Billy Lynn” has nothing new or interesting to say about war and the men and women who fight for this country; what little the film does have to explore has been done before elsewhere. Much of the movie is devoted to the difficulties that some in our military have re-adjusting to civilian life when they are back at home. Throughout his time stateside, he is haunted by flashbacks of some of his more traumatic experiences in Iraq, which can be triggered on a moment’s notice by a noise, or crowds, or scenery. The problem for “Billy Lynn” is that other movies have explored these issues and have done it better. Films like “The Hurt Locker” and “American Sniper” portrayed the struggle battle-worn servicemen have had in returning to a country at peace. “Band of Brothers,” “Fury,” and “Saving Private Ryan” (among others) did a more effective job of showing the bond between soldiers and how important they are to one another. This same “it’s been done elsewhere better” problem plagues every facet of the film.
Even the acting here is uneven. While the veteran actors like Garrett Hedlund and Vin Diesel shine at times, in other moments their performances ring false, wooden, or histrionic. While the ever-dependable Kristen Stewart turns in a solid performance, it’s not one of her best roles. And as much fun as it is to see Steve Martin back on the big screen, he’s wasted in this movie.
To say “Billy Lynn” was disappointing would be an understatement. Skip it.