Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: The Paradox of being a Pro-soldier Peacenik

Film: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Cast: Joe Alwyn, Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, Steve Martin, Makenzie Leigh

Director: Ang Lee

Little known in these parts, Joe Alwyn is sterling as the titular hero in Ang (Life of Pi) Lee’s thought-provoking new film (in high def 3D) about US soldiers returning home to Texas from what are
euphemistically termed “tours” of hell on earth.

You don’t need television to tell you war is hell and that William better known as Billy is cast in the heroic mould but that’s what happens when the young man’s harrowing experiences in war ravaged West Asia aka Middle East is caught on camera.

Billy is part of an US Army unit called Bravo led by Sgt Dime (Garrett Hedlund) who takes over after Shroom (Vin Diesel) dies in the killing fields of Iraq, circa 2004. We soon learn that Billy, never mind the rest of the squad, has enlisted, not for reasons of patriotism, nationalism and all that, but guilt. He feels duty bound to meet the considerable medical expenses of his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) who suffered horrific injuries in a car mishap.

Recognising Billy’s post-traumatic stress disorder, Kathryn wants her brother to stay home for some much-needed therapy even as Billy remarks he’d like to run away with new-found love interest Faison (Mackenzie Leigh) a cheerleader who reminds him he’s a hero, duty-bound to redeploy and return to the battle-field.

Shroom and Faison are most interesting characters: we see Shroom trying his best to convert Billy to Hinduism and often quoting the Bhagavad Gita as a defence of “just war”. For Faison, cheerleading is part of social service; she also believes their instant romance is divinely ordained.

Equally interesting is Chris Tucker’s talent manager Tucker, vainly trying to swing a lucrative movie deal for the Bravos from Steve Martin’s Norm Oglesby, a exploitative football team owner who is prepared to cough up a paltry sum instead of a six figure bonanza to the Bravos for acting in the film. Adapted from the 2012 Ben Fountain bestseller of the same name, Billy Flynn’s Long Half Time Walk could well be blasphemous for the American right-wing and too talky for viewers expecting unrelenting action. But your reviewer enjoyed the serious conversations.

 Any tedium is relieved by the film editor/ director’s adroit handling of flashbacks, wartime terrors and future dreams during the Thanksgiving football game whose halftime show is the venue for Billy’s ‘walk’ to highlight the gaudy and synthetic and to explore our traumatised hero’s angst ( in extreme close-ups.)

Ang Lee uses the pyrotechnics of the halftime show to point out the parallels between patriotism and jingoistic sports. Loud and glitzy, the show is as exceptional as the battle scenes and the press conference sequence where “diplomatic” responses are juxtaposed with honest answers depicted in grey footage.

The techno stuff apart, “Billy Flynn” is blessed with good performances all round though I’d have liked to know more about the brave soldiers who are treated shabbily by stagehands during the show whose highlight is a performance by Beyonce/Destiny’ Child (were they for real?) and the Bravos are reduced to mere props. Show business. Ah me. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a film any pro-soldier, peacenik can empathise with.

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