Ang Lee paints a harsh picture of American excess in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk sees the titular solider (Joe Alwyn) and his squad being carted around America on a promotional tour following a highly publicised skirmish in Iraq in 2004. Their victory lap is set to culminate with an appearance at a halftime show during a football game in Dallas, with the entire film switching between this daunting day and a summary of their deployment in the Middle East.
The biggest issue with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is that it isn’t a film you’ll walk out of feeling upbeat or even relatively happy. That’s not because it’s bad; it isn’t by any means. I just mean that you need to know what you’re getting yourself in for, which is essentially a collection of heavy themes and relatively unsubtle satirisation concerning the War on Terror and its associated politics.
Lee lays bare America’s disconcerting fetishism with war and conflict through powerful yet heavy-handed messaging about the misconstrued perception of honour and glory. During the halftime extravaganza, garish pyrotechnics, cheer squads and marching bands are contrasted with rocket launchers and bullet storms to convey this impactful message in the bluntest of terms.
Lee takes a hard stance and doesn’t dish it out in half measures; this is a grim and controversial examination of war that is totally at odds with something rousing like Mel Gibson’s recent Hacksaw Ridge. For Billy Lynn, Lee leaves his rose-tinted glasses at home and serves up a confronting film that isn’t going to be a crowd-pleaser – especially in Donald Trump’s America where everything needs to be great and good again.
If Alwyn was at all fazed by taking the lead role in his first feature film, it doesn’t show in his compelling performance as the homespun Texan kid torn between his family and his duty. It helps having an unknown at the forefront of the film as it allows the audience to project their own thoughts and feeling onto the protagonist.
Lee also extracts moving performances from his star-studded supporting cast (Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker), even when the material they’re given to work with tips into cheesy territory. The emotional backbone comes in the form of Billy’s sister Kathryn, played by Kristen Stewart who continues to make her case as one of the best actresses working.
Thought-provoking and contentious, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk isn’t close to Lee’s best, but it is far from his worst. If you like war films where good triumphs over evil, this one isn’t for you.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is available in Australian cinemas from November 24
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures