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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk review by Rashid Irani: Mindless war games

Neither exciting nor entertaining, this film is an aberration in Ang Lee’s otherwise illustrious career.

movie reviews Updated: Feb 16, 2017 21:23 IST
Rashid Irani
Memories of combat crowd a young soldier’s mind as he waits for halftime at a football game in Texas.
Memories of combat crowd a young soldier’s mind as he waits for halftime at a football game in Texas.

BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK

Direction: Ang Lee

Actors: Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart

Rating: 2.5 / 5

This film is an aberration in Ang Lee’s otherwise illustrious career.

The two-time Oscar-winning Taiwanese-American director (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) is the first mainstream filmmaker to use a 120-frames-per-second, higher-resolution 3D format, in this film. And while there has been much brouhaha about the new process, no cinema in India is equipped to screen Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk in its enhanced capacity, so one can’t tell if the gambit will pay off in the long run.

Either way, the screenplay is pedestrian. It’s adapted from the satirical war novel of the same name by Ben Fountain, and follows a squad of American soldiers who briefly return home to be feted as heroes after a tour of duty in Iraq.

Considerable time is wasted on subplots involving a romance with a cheerleader, and a glib Hollywood agent who wants to cast the soldiers in a potboiler.

They are whisked off to a football game in Texas on Thanksgiving Day. While waiting for them to participate in a halftime musical extravaganza, the narrative flits back and forth from the stadium to memories of combat that keep erupting in the mind of the titular teenage infantryman (British newcomer Joe Alwyn; efficient enough, especially when he’s shedding copious tears).

As the day wears on, the disillusionment of the men increases. Flashbacks also abound of Billy’s reunion with his family, particularly his meeting with his firebrand sister (the ever-reliable Kristen Stewart).

Considerable time is wasted on subplots involving a romance with a cheerleader (Mackenzie Leigh) and the efforts of a glib-talking Hollywood agent (Chris Tucker) who wants to cast the soldiers in a potboiler starring Hilary Swank.

There’s even an imaginary encounter with the squad’s slain sergeant, played by Vin Diesel.

Jingoism and cynicism mix in equal measure as the plot winds down in confrontations with security personnel and an imaginary encounter with the squad’s slain sergeant (Vin Diesel), who loves to expound on Krishna and Arjuna, if you please.

As for the satire on war for which the book was lauded, it’s been totally lost in translation. For a more trenchant rendering of the links between the realities of war and the hero-hungry American public, it’s worth checking out the vastly superior Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) or the more recent Flags of Our Fathers (2006).

Neither exciting nor entertaining, Billy Lynn’s… is recommended for Ang Lee completists only.

Watch the trailer for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk