Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, with Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Chris Tucker, Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel and Steve Martin. Directed by Ang Lee.
Billy Lynn is a war story related from an unusual perspective – that of the celebration of war veterans at American football games.
Apparently the parading of servicemen and women at these games is part of the pomp and circumstance of American football, but the way Ang Lee plays out the contrast of what those soldiers have experienced with the gaudy revelry of sports entertainment, is what paints such a vivid picture of the duality of weighty and trivial matters within a culture and embodied in individuals.
Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is the hero of Bravo Squad, on home leave from the war in Iraq. Only 19, he is already a battle-tempered soldier. But he looks so young.
It was early in the Iraq war, 2004, before it began to look like another Vietnam with casualties piling up and public opinion turning against the war.
The film flits back and forth between Billy and his squad being prepped for their halftime appearance at the Thanksgiving Day NFL game, and their training and operations in Iraq.
The squad is accompanied by a film producer (Chris Tucker) who is trying to work out a movie deal for them, because Billy’s act of heroism is so appealing. He was caught on camera coming to the rescue of his fallen squad leader Sergeant Breem (Vin Diesel), who was being dragged away by enemy combatants.
Only later in the movie do we learn the full extent of that tragic incident, the things that were not captured on camera.
Ang Lee plays out the contrast of what those soldiers have experienced with the gaudy revelry of sports entertainment
In the Hummer limousine and at the football stadium, we meet Billy’s comrades, from no-nonsense Sergeant Dime (Garrett Hedlund) to the good-natured banter of his fellow squad members. They are all so young.
They have a question and answer time with the press, and Billy smiles to himself imagining their utterances if they could be honest, in contrast with their pat replies.
Their experience at the football game sees them praised, used as pawns, ridiculed and assaulted for being who they are.
Billy also gets some time to be home with his family, with its own mix of joy and sadness. His anti-war sister (Kristen Stewart) is undergoing plastic surgery operations for an injury to her face.
Back in Iraq, we learn the circumstances of that injury. On punitive KP for recklessly driving and crashing a Hummer, and grilled by sergeants Breem and Dime, Billy eventually admits he joined the army to avoid prosecution for something he did for his sister.
One of the most poignant scenes in the movie is the way Breem tells each member of his squad that he loves them before they go into battle. It is more than the testimony of brothers-in-arms, it is like Breem is reminding them they are human and loved, even as they are expected to be soldiers and killers.