Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk review: Ang Lee’s war movie runs on Vin Diesel
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Director - Ang Lee
Cast - Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Chris Tucker, Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, Steve Martin
Rating - 4/5
The biggest reason Ang Lee’s new film, the unusually titled Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is such a moving success (and it is, despite near-inertness for long chunks), is Ang Lee.
Interestingly, for a filmmaker as acclaimed as Lee, he is yet to display any sort of directorial trademark. He doesn’t have those instantly recognisable quirks that say, Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee have. And yet, he is an Oscar-winner, one of the greatest filmmakers working today, with a filmography more diverse than those of Scorsese, The Coens and Tarantino combined. And even though it’s difficult to put a finger on it, Ang Lee, and the tenderness he brings to Private Billy Lynn’s story, is what makes this film work.
It seems as if the studio didn’t really know how to handle this movie’s release, and this hesitation to simply come out and call it what it is, one of the most experimental works of Lee’s career, is what holds it back, at least until audiences finally get to experience it for themselves.
And it’s no one’s fault. It’s understandable. The brain ignores the abstract – and God knows this film is abstract – only to focus on the aspects it can grasp. On paper, it’s the story of a 19-year-old soldier, Private Billy Lynn, and his platoon, Bravo team, back from Iraq after having been a part of a skirmish that ended with one of their number, Shroom (played by none other than Vin Diesel, in a performance that will remind you what an excellent actor he is), being killed. Billy Lynn took down several enemies single-handedly as he tried to save Shroom’s life, and for his bravery, he was honoured.
The framing device Lee utilises here is similar to the one he weaved into Life of Pi. Most of the film takes place during a football game as the Bravo team prepares to be felicitated at the halftime show.
But then, through sheer power of storytelling, Lee, and his screenwriter Jean-Christophe Castelli transform what could so easily have been a straightforward tale of PTSD, into a spiritual, theological, dreamlike light and sound show.
Being a war hero isn’t enough. As we saw this week, the power of celebrity Trumps everything. The soldiers are hounded, by businessmen, movie producers, groupies, civilians and their families as they stare back at each one of them, always with respect, and always with an empty look in their eyes.
Through flashbacks, Lee takes us to the moment that made them heroes. Like the recent Tom Hanks film Sully, Billy Lynn revolves around one event, which flashes before our eyes just like Shroom’s life flashed before his.
The dust from the Iraq war hasn’t settled but films about it are thinning by the year. Billy Lynn joins an esteemed list, films like The Hurt Locker, Green Zone, Stop-Loss and The Messenger. It is one of the most honest movies about the war, both in its portrayal of the confusion that surrounded it and the more personal sacrifices the soldiers had to make.
The war was being fought over there, but it was being run from back home.
I can only imagine how much more I would have liked this film had I seen it in the manner it was intended to be seen: The revolutionary 120 frames-per-second, 4K 3D. But even in regular old 2D, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was one of the year’s most quietly meditative experiences, respectful, despite the frills. Its success will depend largely on how well it does in the awards season. It’ll fail. But don’t let that deter you.