Movie Review – Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Recently I had the opportunity to see Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, an American war drama directed by Hollywood legend Ang Lee.  Based on the book of the same name, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk focuses on a squad of Army soldiers, and in particular Billy Lynn, who became famous for their actions in combat in Iraq, and they’re treated as war heroes during a Dallas Cowboys’ halftime show on Thanksgiving.

The film stars Joe Alwyn in the role as soldier Billy Lynn.  Also in the film are Kristen Stewart as Kathryn Lynn, Billy’s sister; Chris Tucker as Albert, a film producer; Vin Diesel as Shroom, one of the squad’s sergeants; and Steve Martin as Norm Oglesby, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) – movie poster

Taking place around 2004-05, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk begins with hidden camera footage of Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) coming to the aid of Virgil “Shroom” Breem (Vin Diesel) while under fire from enemy forces.  Although Shroom dies from his injuries, Billy’s heroism catapults him and his squad into the national spotlight.  The squad (named “Bravo Squad” by the media) is back in the U.S. to tour the country and help draw support for the war.  Their main performance takes place today during the halftime show for the Dallas Cowboys’ football game on Thanksgiving.

From their hotel, Cowboys’ PR agent Josh (Ben Platt) and film producer Albert Brown (Chris Tucker) escort the soldiers to the football stadium.  While Josh tries to keep the soldiers updated as to their schedule at the game, Albert is trying to work out a film deal so that a Hollywood company will bring the story of Billy Lynn and Bravo Squad to the movie theaters.

Billy suffers from PTSD, and he continually has flashbacks, most of which are about the war and what really happened when Shroom was shot and ultimately killed.  One of the flashbacks shows Billy taking a Humvee for a joyride in Iraq, accidentally wrecking part of it, and then having to do strenuous physical exercise for his punishment.  His squad leaders think that Billy is just a hick from Texas and a screw-up, but Billy explains to them the real reason why he joined the Army.  Billy tells the story about how his sister, Katheryn Lynn (Kristen Stewart), was seriously injured in a car accident and required multiple facial surgeries.  Her boyfriend dumped her while she was in the hospital, and Billy went to go teach him a lesson.  Billy was arrested but the charges were dropped.  The next day Billy signed up to join the Army.

Back at the football stadium, the soldiers of Bravo Squad receive mostly warm welcomes and greetings from the workers and fans.  The soldiers are asked to be part of a video presentation from the Dallas Cowboys.  After the presentation, Billy meets one of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, Faison (Makenzie Leigh), and the two of them hit it off.  This is Billy’s first love, and he’s already afraid of leaving her and having to return to Iraq.

The soldiers meet with Cowboys’ owner Norm Oglesby (Steve Martin), and they’re taken to the locker room to meet with the players and get their autographs.  After the autograph session, the soldiers are fed a hearty pregame meal with the rest of Norm’s guests.

The game begins and it’s not long until the soldiers need to prepare for the halftime show with the band Destiny’s Child.  After changing into their desert camouflage battle dress uniforms, the soldiers follow their instructions and march out on cue.  Immediately they become tense when fireworks go off in the arena, and that’s intensified when smoke explosions occur right next to them.  This accidentally triggers some of the soldiers, and they nearly get into a fight with a security guard.

Halfway through the performance, the soldiers have to stand on stage during one of Destiny Child’s songs.  Billy has to stand alone and out in front of his squad mates.  During the time on stage, Billy has more flashbacks and remembers the battle where Shroom died and Billy earned a Silver Star for his heroism and attempted rescue of Shroom.  During the attempted rescue, Billy ends up killing an insurgent at close range and using a knife.

The soldiers return to their seats, and Billy has to make a decision about whether or not to stay with his fellow soldiers.  Katheryn has already set up a doctor that’ll confirm that Billy is suffering from PTSD, and he’ll be honorably discharged from the military.  Billy knows that it’s a coward’s way out and his fellow soldiers will be greatly disappointed if he does it.  He sends messages to both Katheryn and Faison, telling them both to meet him outside the stadium right after the game.

Sergeant Dime (Garrett Hedlund) receives a phone call, and he and Billy are taken back to meet with Albert.  It turns out that Norm wants to produce the movie about Billy and Bravo Squad, but there’s not going to be much money paid to the soldiers.  Earlier Albert suggested that if a movie was made about the squad, each soldier could receive $100,000 as payment.  In reality, Norm is only offering around $5,500 to each soldier.  The news greatly offends Dime, and he and Billy (and the rest of the squad) are ready to refuse the offer.

Norm takes Billy aside and tries to sweet talk him into making the movie deal.  His biggest argument is that he’s the only person making an offer, and at this point something is better than nothing.  Billy sees through him, and he and Dime refuse the movie deal.  After the meeting, Albert promises to keep searching for a producer who will make the film the right way, with all of the soldiers.

The squad gathers their gear and the make their way to a stretched limousine.  Downstairs in the garage, the soldiers are ambushed by a group of security guards who gave them a hard time during the halftime show.  Billy has more flashbacks and is traumatized during the fight.  The rumble ends when one of the soldiers recovers a pistol and fires a shot into the air.

While the rest of the squad climbs into the car, Billy briefly meets with Faison.  He tells her that he wishes he could stay, but he has to return with his squad to Iraq.  They kiss and it’s implied that she’ll wait for him to return.  Billy then sees Kathryn, and she’s furious that Billy is choosing to stay in the Army.  Still, she and Billy hug before he leaves.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk ends with Billy sitting in the limousine (which he envisioned as a Humvee), and telling each of his fellow soldiers that he loves them, just as Shroom did before their fateful battle in Iraq.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk any good?

Yes and no.

As far as the story goes, this film just feels mediocre.  Soldiers have dealt with PTSD since the dawn of time, and we’ve seen plenty of books and movies that deal with the mental health problem.  It’s a serious problem, but it’s also nothing original as far as movies go.

The story here moves at a decent pace, even with almost half of it being told through flashbacks.  While this is a war drama, there’s very little warfare in this film.  The good news is that the battle scenes look impressive and you feel like you’re really there.

That brings us to perhaps the best part of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

This is a visually stunning movie.  From the cinematography to the way that characters look into the camera at times (putting you into Billy’s shoes), this is an impressive film.  It’s difficult to look away as much of this movie simply looks fantastic.  It’s clear that director Ang Lee is a very gifted artist.  Too bad some of his films (like this and 2003’s Hulk) have lackluster stories to accompany the powerful visuals.

If Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk had a better story, then this film could be hailed as a masterpiece, such as 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  But that’s not the case here, and, sadly, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, will quickly be forgotten by most of the public.

This movie is definitely classified as a rental, and not necessarily a film that’ll make you rush out and purchase it.  This film is not for everybody, and once you’ve seen it, you may or may not feel inspired to watch it a second or third time.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) – movie trailer

Although Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a visually beautiful film, its mediocre story and lack of major actors will make it a failure to a lot of people.  It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s also not that great, either.  Rent this movie, enjoy the visuals, overlook the cliches, and then go find something else to watch.

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