In the last 14 years, we’ve seen an increase in patriotic American movies about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve dealt with real-life events, PTSD, the effects of returning home and everything in between. We’ve seen it all, still never truly grasping what it is these men and woman experience over there, nor will ever be able to no matter how hard they try. This year, visionary director Ang Lee (‘Life of Pi’) has decided to give it a go, bringing Ben Fountain’s book ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ to life. He’s employed some of that Ang Lee magic and a few advancements in cinematic technology to help him get there.
Imagine you’re a soldier. As soon as you step back onto friendly soil you’re immediately met with standing ovations, applause, tears, handshakes, pats on the back, journalists in your face and well-wishers praising your heroism saying “Thank you for your service.” Of course it’s all deserved, but did anyone ever ask the soldiers if they believe that too?
SWITCH: 'BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK' TRAILER
In ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’, it’s 2004 and the members of Bravo squad are back stateside as they wrap up their two week victory tour after the footage of a recent mission went viral, turning them all into heroes. The “hero” at the centre of the vision is 19-year-old Specialist Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who was caught in the thick of a gun fight trying to save his Sergeant (Vin Diesel, ‘Fast and the Furious’) from capture and death. It’s now Thanksgiving and the men are mere hours away from redeployment, but first they have to participate in one last dog and pony show at a football game in Dallas. The squad has to meet and greet VIPs and fans, attend a press conference, and participate in the half time show alongside Destiny’s Child.
Constantly switching between flashbacks, the present and Billy’s POV, this is a fully immersive film both visually and emotionally, and has finally given us something that all those other films have been missing: a different point of view - and it’s taken a non-American director to do it. Not only does the film highlight those for the war and against it, but it also isn’t afraid to mention the oil factor and general gross public disrespect for soldiers. Remember, this film takes place only two years after September 11.
Constantly switching between flashbacks, the present and Billy’s POV, this is a fully immersive film both visually and emotionally, and has finally given us something that all those other films have been missing: a different point of view.
Lee has a masterful eye that sees what others can’t, and then has an uncanny ability to bring that vision to life. Here, Lee constantly uses close-ups, tight group shots and POVs. He wants his audience right there, in the thick of it whether it's a bomb goes off or a simple halftime pyrotechnic triggering a memory. When a reveller yells “Fuck you” at one of the soldiers, he wants it to cut you just as much as it does the characters on screen. And when Billy struggles with his own guilt as well as that of his sister’s as she feel responsible for his being over there, your heart churns with the emotional predicament.
So far ‘Billy Lynn’ seems to have divided audiences. Some have argued that there’s no story here. I beg to differ. Either those reviewers walked in expecting the next ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or they have such little regard for human life that they don’t believe suffering and sacrifice is “captivating” enough. I will admit that the rollercoaster of satire can be confusing too, but I choose to see it in the same light as the recent U.S. election. For 18 months we saw the two candidates and their supporters rip into each other, but once one of them wins you have to respect the office.
This review is based on a 2D standard frame rate screening.