Destiny’s Child was a thing?
After serving in the Bravo Squad out there in Iraq, nineteen-year-old private Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) returns home for what is, presumably, a victory tour. A video of him on the battlefield and aiding a fellow soldier (Vin Diesel) went viral and has now made him the poster boy for the war effort and because of that, the media wants to get every ounce of him that they can handle. And you know what? The Army isn’t so against whoring him, or his fellow soldiers, out for the greater good of society and have it appear that the actual war effort everyone speaks so highly of is actually, well, worth it after all. Even though Billy still keeps on getting flashbacks and headaches from his tour in Iraq, the Army still needs him, as well as the rest of the Bravo Squad to get on the field at halftime during the Thanksgiving football game and wave to the crowd. Meanwhile, Billy himself is literally about to break open, thinking about what he’s going to do next with his life, and whether or not he wants to stay put at home, with his dedicated and loyal sister (Kristen Stewart), or go back to the war and continue doing what he did before.
Ang Lee is probably one of the best directors we have working today. He’s constantly challenging himself to take on different stories, as well as to work with new technology and advance the way we, the audience, watch his movies. He’s bounced from genre-to-genre so often that it’s no surprise some of his movies don’t quite work, but no matter what, they’re always interesting to watch, just because it’s Ang Lee and the guy can’t help but try his hardest with whatever he’s working with.
And then there’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
Although a lot of people have been going on and on about the 120 fps frame-rate and 3D. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to see the movie in that way, but what I can assure you is that I saw the movie as clear as humanly imaginable. Is it a gimmick? Possibly. But is it neat to watch? Yes, but it also doesn’t really add much to the movie, either. What it does add is a certain level of authenticity and have us see every crease, every pimple, every shave-mark in these characters’ faces. Why? In all honesty, not really sure. Ang Lee seems to have used it to challenge himself, once again, but sadly, it doesn’t add-up to much.
It just makes a dull movie, really pretty to look at and that’s about it.
And with Billy Lynn, Lee seems to be doing a whole lot, with very little. On one aspect, he’s playing around with comedy, drama, satire and thriller elements all in one movie, while also doing his best to make sense of the constantly changing-in-time narrative. What could have been a very simple and easy-to-track movie about a bunch of soldiers returning home after a hellish tour in Iraq, soon turns into a very complicated, unnecessary overstuffed movie about said soldiers, but also about politicians, football, the American Dream, PTSD, money, sex, family, and most importantly, violence.
In fact, if there is one aspect of the story that Lee seems to get right, it’s the actual violence itself. While we don’t get a whole lot of scenes of Billy on the battlefield and in Iraq, the very few times that we do, they’re are startling, intense, and most of all, disturbing. One sequence in particular starts off violent in a chaotic sense, then turns into a smaller, much more contained bit of violence that, surprisingly, is a lot scarier to watch than all of the other shooting and explosions. But of course, that’s literally one piece of this very large pie and when you put it all back together, they don’t quite fit together.
One piece is a satire on how common, everyday citizens use the war and the soldiers themselves as propaganda to help continue and make sense of the war effort; another piece is how the soldiers themselves are so screwed-up that they don’t really know that they need the help to survive in everyday, normal life; there’s another piece about settling back into normal, everyday life, which is a lot harder for a person who has actually gone to a place where they were told to kill the enemy, by any means necessary; and then, there’s another piece about actually relating to others about the experience in the war and realizing that it was an absolutely terrible time in your life.
As you can tell, yeah, there’s a lot going on here.
Tack on the fact that the movie has a lot of characters here, all saying and doing something, but not really serving a purpose. Lee’s got a lot on his plate and because of that, a lot of stuff misses, and barely any of it hits; the constant jokes about Hollywood trying to make a movie about these guys’ real-life experience is an old joke that gets constantly played over, again and again. And with Lee, you get the sense that he truly does have something interesting to say here, but what is that? War is hell, but also so is back at-home? Or, is he trying to say that no one really understands the war until they’ve actually gone out on the battlefield and killed someone?
Once again, not really sure sure. What I do know is that Lee, as usual, keeps the material as entertaining and interesting as he possibly can, but after awhile, the story just doesn’t connect. We’ve seen far too many of these anti-war flicks by now, that without a very effective stance, none of it really matters. Shaping Billy Lynn’s actual PTSD during a Destiny’s Child halftime is one of the more impressive moments of the film, let alone, Ang Lee’s career, but it comes literally in the middle of a movie that needed far more energy and excitement to really keep itself compelling.
If there’s anything to take away from Billy Lynn, however, it’s that Lee knows how to assemble a pretty crazy and eclectic cast, all of whom do fine, but like I said, aren’t working with the best of material.
Kristen Stewart is good as the kind-hearted and supportive sister-figure who, honestly, isn’t the film as much as she should be; Chris Tucker tries to have some fun as the Hollywood agent, but doesn’t really have anything actually funny to do; Garrett Hedlund plays the leader of the Bravo and seems like he had more fun in Pan; Vin Diesel is an odd fit as Billy’s Lieutenant, who may or may not be a father-figure; Steve Martin shows up randomly as Norm Ogelsby, a very rich Texan who owns the professional football team and does what he can with an in-and-out Southern accent; and newcomer Joe Alywn does a very good job as our title character, showing a great deal of heart, warmth and insecurity as a young kid, unfortunately, forced to grow up, real quick.
Consensus: With so much going on, Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk feels like a jumble that Ang Lee, try as he might, has a bit of a hard time navigating through and making sense of, even if certain aspects of the whole do deliver.
6 / 10