You have to wonder why a film starring Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Kristen Stewart and Chris Tucker, directed by Life of Pi‘s Ang Lee, didn’t get much love at the U.S. box office. The problem probably lies with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk‘s subject matter: war. If there is anything Americans don’t want to see it’s a compassionate war film that doesn’t have traditional propaganda.
Arriving back from Iraq, 19-year-old Billy Lynn feels completely out of place in his hometown. Although he is dubbed a hero, Billy is burdened by the ills of war. While he is conflicted by his duty to his country and his sister’s pleas for him to return home to his family, he also has to deal with his sudden popularity after a video showing him rushing to the rescue of a wounded marine goes viral. As the world celebrates Billy, he finds himself dropped dead centre into America’s worst example of greed. And it’s troubling.
Award-winning director Ang Lee (Sense And Sensibility, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) has a knack for packing a big emotional punch in the still and quiet moments of his films. He does the same in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Where other directors would over exaggerate the trauma experienced by the lead or aggressively tackle the subject, Lee stands firm in his belief that less is more. This allows for the bigger emotional moments to ring true. And there’s many of them.
It could be argued that the film is a slow burner but, even in its quiet moments, Lee builds up towards the film’s final conclusion. The camaraderie between Billy and his unit is infectious. There are some genuinely funny and heartbreaking moments, which is accompanied by really good performances from the cast. While Joe Alwayn is good as the lead, Garrett Hedlund is a true revelation as SGT Dime. He is emotionally invested in his role, which he considers a tribute to his late father. And while he isn’t the centre of the film, his moments do shine the brightest.
Based on Ben Fountain’s novel, scripted by Jean-Christophe Castelli, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk isn’t an anti-war film. Instead, it feels like a strange coming-of-age story mixed with a satirical look at war. The essence of Ang Lee’s perspective seems to be that war is incredibly complicated – even for the heroes. It’s not a perfect film, but its heart is definitely in the right place.