(director: Ang Lee; screenwriters: Jean-Christophe Castilli /novel by Ben Fountain; cinematographer: John Toll; editor: Tim Squyres; music:Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna; cast: Joe Alwyn Billy Lynn, Kristen Stewart (Kathryn Lynn), Chris Tucker (Albert), Garrett Hedlund (Dime), Vin Diesel (Schroom), Steve Martin (Norm), Makenzie Leigh (Faison), Beau Knapp (Crack),Ismael Cruz Cordova (Holliday), Tim Blake Nelson (Wayne), Ben Platt (Josh), Rany Gonzales (Hector), Mason Lee (Foo), Richard Allen Danie (Major Mac), Dierdre Lovejoy (Billy’s Mother), Laura Wheale (Billy’s older sister), Bruce McKinnon (Billy’s Father), Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley (Lordis), Barney Harris (Sykes), J. J. Watt (Football Player), Richard Sherman (Football Player); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Simon Cornwell, Stephen Cornwell, Marc Platt, Tom Rothman, Rhodri Thomas, Ang Lee; Sony Tristar; 2016)

A heavy-handed but accurate social satire on the Iraq War and America’s nauseating attempt to package it as a necessary war back home.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A heavy-handed but accurate social satire on the Iraq War and America’s nauseating attempt to package it as a necessary war back home.

The movie is based on the bitingly funny 2012 novel by Ben Fountain, but is tamely written by Jean-Christophe Castilli. Acclaimed director Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”/”Taking Woodstock”) ineffectively uses advances in visual digital technology in 3D to speed up the film process, but since hardly any theaters are equipped with this revolutionary new device most will still see it in regular 2-D.

The aim is to shed a sympathetic light on the innocent soldiers while showing that the war they are fighting is wrong. It attempts to get into the heads of the grudgingly reluctant ordinary young men heroes put on display at commercial sites that are advancing obnoxious jingoism for the war effort and also it makes us aware, even if ever so slightly, of the dangers of post-traumatic stress for many returning soldiers that’s not seriously treated by the military.

The small town Texas 19-year-old Army Specialist Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) along with his eight-man Bravo Squad become heroes after a harrowing skirmish in Iraq, where their beloved sergeant is killed. Their siege is caught on camera and shows how the men bravely fought off the enemy attack, but fails to show us the reality of their situation. The government officials want heroes and the men are brought home for a two-week propaganda victory tour consisting mostly of photo-ops with community leaders.

Through flashbacks between the battle on October 23, 2004 and the soldiers being feted at the halftime show of the 2004 Thanksgiving Day Cowboy football game in Dallas, the film reveals that the American public might be disillusioned with the unpopular war but still want to hear from the soldiers, even if it’s to give them false hopes that the war is being well run. All things are seen through Billy’s eyes. After the brief tour, where their fast-talking full of himself low-level manager Albert (Chris Tucker) is their tour leader who tries to get a movie made for the men before they are redeployed to Iraq to finish their tour, but no one in Hollywood steps up with the money expected and the narcissistic and bombastic owner of the Cowboys (Steve Martin) insults them with a low-ball offer while professing how much he loves the war and the soldiers.

The soldiers have a great camaraderie among themselves, but have trouble relating to civilians. During the football game Billy meets a Dallas cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh), a couple of football players who dumbly ask if he ever killed anyone and how it feels, and he has ongoing cell phone contact with his worried sister (Kristen Stewart), who wants to get him to use the PST excuse to get an honorable discharge rather than return to Iraq. Billy has good memories of his mentoring spiritual sergeant (Vin Diesel) whom he comes to the rescue of when he’s badly wounded and how he deals differently with his current bossy lifer sergeant (Garrett Hedlund).

Though the satire is piercing, the movie feels staged and tells us nothing new about loud-mouth patriots and their empty promises. It also lacks the emotional characterizations to make us care about the ones we are supposed to care about, as too many scenes were ineffective. While not quite dramatically inert, nevertheless it doesn’t have enough juice to make the entire project work. But it should make us squirm at the hypocrisy shown by the business community to the war effort and how the soldiers are used by the current administration without being fully taken care of in all their needs.

Joe Alwyn in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016)


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