Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Film Review: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Ang Lee paints a harsh picture of American excess in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk sees the titular solider (Joe Alwyn) and his squad being carted around America on a promotional tour following a highly publicised skirmish in Iraq in 2004. Their victory lap is set to culminate with an appearance at a halftime show during a football game in Dallas with the entire film switching between this daunting day and a summary of their deployment in the Middle East. 

The biggest issue with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is that it isn’t a film you’ll walk out of feeling upbeat or even relatively happy. That’s not because it’s bad; it isn’t by any means. I just mean that you need to know what you’re getting yourself in for which is essentially a collection of heavy themes and relatively unsubtle satirization concerning the War of Terror and its associated politics.

Lee lays bare America’s disconcerting fetishism with war and conflict through powerful yet heavy-handed messaging about the misconstrued perception of honour and glory. During the titular halftime extravaganza, garish pyrotechnics, cheer squads and marching bands are contrasted with rocket launchers and bullet storms to convey this impactful message in the bluntest of terms. The stadium corporate box is dubbed the ‘war room’; a backstage aide describes suiting up for halftime as ‘prepping for battle’. It’s very on the nose, which in turn makes the messaging powerful if not little clunky. 

Lee takes a hard stance and doesn’t dish it out in half measures; this is a meditative examination of a grim and controversial war that is totally at odds with something rousing like Mel Gibson’s recent Hacksaw Ridge. For Billy Lynn, Lee leaves his rose-tinted glasses at home and serves up a confronting film that isn’t going to be a crowd-pleaser – especially in Donald Trump’s jingoistic America where everything needs to be great and good again. 

If you like war films where good triumphs over evil, Billy Lynn isn’t for you – Lee is much more interested in crafting a complex film that exposes the inherent ethical dichotomy of the Iraq War by calling into question recent history. Masculinity, sexuality, patriotism, brotherhood, loyalty and family are all themes and ideas that Lee grapples with to varying degrees of success, but his intent is still evident and makes Billy Lynn an interesting if not wholly uplifting time at the movies. 

If Alwyn was at all fazed by taking the lead role in his first feature film, it doesn’t show in his compelling performance as the homespun Texan kid torn between his family and his duty to his unit. It helps having an unknown at the forefront of the film as it allows the audience to project their own thoughts and feeling onto the protagonist – and Alwyn is suitably open and fragile enough to accommodate this.

Lee also extracts moving performances from his star-studded supporting cast, even when the material they’re given to work with tips into cheesy territory; Billy’s troop, which includes Garrett Hedlund, are all individually fleshed out whilst names like Vin Diesel, Steve Martin and Chris Tucker are also present and correct in some form or another. The emotional backbone comes in the form of Kristen Stewart who continues to make her case as one best actresses working today as Billy’s sister Kathryn.

The Verdict: 6/10

Thought-provoking and contentious, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk isn’t close to Lee’s best but it is far from his worst. Sluggish pacing and some odd creative decisions hamper an otherwise stellar satire of war and terrorism.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is in cinemas across Australia now

This review was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.


  1. This is a disappointment as your review is one of many that was less than impressed with this film. I honestly thought this would be one of the big contenders of the year, because of it's director. I guess not :\

  2. I haven't had a chance to see this one, and I don't have much to go on beyond the stills, clips, and adds I've seen, though I would be tempted to criticize the fact that, once again, a film supposedly about modern warfare failed to get the memo that women can serve now.

    It does look like it could be interesting. Perhaps I should keep an eye on it on Netflix. I've actually been planning something where an article like this would be appropriate. http://hitchcocksworld.blogspot.ca/2016/11/twelve-wars-to-christmas.html?m=1



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