Director Ang Lee is no stranger to creating unique stories in grand visual fashion. Sometimes it works magnificently in Life of Pi for example. Other times the Brokeback Mountain director crashes the project into the mountain like his take on Bruce Banner in Hulk (deemed by many one of the worst superhero films of all time). For Lee’s next project, the director decided to recreate a traditional spectacle in the form of a Pro Football Halftime Show set in Dallas, Texas on Thanksgiving when all of America is watching. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk doesn’t focus on the play at hand on the gridiron, but rather a platoon of soldiers who are the guests of honor during the halftime show for their heroic actions in Iraq that have been covered extensively by the media. At the center of this celebration is Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), an Army Specialist who has a very reflective day at the stadium that has him pondering his purpose in this world and what the future holds.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is not a complete miss for Director Ang Lee, but it’s a far cry from the directors previously Oscar nominated work. Structurally the film is a mess. Lee tells Billy’s story through a series of flashbacks that doesn’t flow well at all. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk jumps from moment to moment never allowing the audience to get to know all these real life heroes. The flashbacks are almost useless at times considering they almost serve as a distraction during the movie. Lee also can’t decide if he wants to tell a story about the way society treats veterans, the families that care for them, PTSD issues or the actual war these young men are fighting. None of it meshes together well enough to make you care, plus when you add in a silly forced loved story involving a cheerleader the plot direction almost becomes laughable.
The large cast in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk also suffers due to the average script and topsy-turvy story telling. The back and forth from the past to present day causes a lack of character depth especially in characters like Vin Diesel’s Shroom and most of Billy’s family outside of his grief-stricken sister Kathryn played by Kristen Stewart. Newcomer Joe Alwyn may be the title character, but he is actually out shined by his costar Garrett Hedlund as Staff Sergeant Dime. The commanding officer is a presence every time he is on-screen whether it’s in the past on the streets fighting insurgents or in the present trying to keep a bunch of rowdy soldiers in line as they get the VIP treatment at the big game. Hedlund stands out as the no-nonsense officer in a cast with scene stealers like Chris Tucker and Steve Martin who surprisingly bring nothing special to their roles.
It’s not all bad in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Like most of Ang Lee’s celluloid displays, the film is beautifully shot even if Lee drops the ball a little not focusing on the game at hand and keeping the beauty in Billy’s mind as he waits in the stands for his big moment. Lee’s depiction of the treatment of our soldiers is a brave and bold move showing how dumb the general public acts towards our armed service men and women. We get to see your typical rich white folk making silly comparisons, while forgetting all about our veterans the second a new cause arrises they can rally around. Unfortunately, that is where the praise will end for this disappointing film. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk could have been an exceptional emotional journey to witness, but instead flounders in its own clichéd story that fails to connect with the audience.
Overall, I give Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk 2 out of 4 stars.
Read all T.M.’s reviews here–>Entertainment Now with T.M. Powell