Ang Lee has created an honest film about what the realities of war are and what the media perceives them to be.
Billy Lynn (Joe Alywn) and his fellow soldiers have come back home to America for a victory tour. This comes after Lynn’s team, Bravo, are caught on camera in a harrowing battle in Iraq. Yet, the young soldier isn’t handling being back home so well, and neither are his comrades. The film takes place at the final stop of the victory tour, where the Bravo team are part of the Thanksgiving Halftime Show in Texas. As the day progresses, the pressure Lynn is under by the halftime show production clashes with the PTSD that overwhelms him.
Ang Lee is a director that approaches each film he makes in a different way. His approach to directing Brokeback Mountain was very simple. The majority of it was shot through still camera frames, letting the actors carry the story. When he directed Life of Pi, he used extravagant camera techniques to tell the story. In Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Lee has taken what he’s done in those previously mentioned films and combined them. Therefore, making for a great cinematic experience.
To achieve great filmmaking is to bring the technical, written and performance elements together. And that’s precisely what Lee does with this film. Jumping back and forth between Lynn’s one day on this victory tour and his time at war makes for powerful storytelling. It also shows how dramatic the media’s perception of war is, compared to the realities of it.
During the halftime show, these soldiers aren’t treated like heroes. They’re being talked to as if they don’t matter and bossed around like children. The worst is when Hollywood comes knocking to make their battle into a cliched movie. These scenes are contrasted with the reality the Bravo team faced in that battle. Lee makes it clear through his skilled direction, that the media are insensitive to the real heroes of the world. They don’t seem to care about what really happened to the soldiers in Iraq, they only care about the dollar signs they see them as. Lee achieves this through the use of sound effects, editing, and camera angles.
Quite simply, Joe Alywn is going to be a star. His ability to change emotions within seconds is mesmerizing. One moment he’s laughing with his friends, the next he’s crying hearing the national anthem. Alywn transfers Lynn’s emotions through the screen and to the audience. He’s the mould that holds the film together. If he wasn’t believable, the entire film would fall apart, no matter how good Lee is with his direction. The greatness in casting Alywn isn’t just because he’s a great actor, but also because this is his first film. Thus, making it easy for the audience to believe Lynn is a real soldier. It gives an authenticity to the character that would not be achieved otherwise.
Kristen Stewart plays Lynn’s sister, Kathryn. It’s a minor role but has a big impact on the story. Billy and Kathryn have a strong bond. Therefore, there needs to be strong chemistry between the actors in the roles. Thankfully, Stewart and Alywn have that chemistry. It’s in the quiet conversations between them that educate the real effects of war. Stewart is the voice of every soldier’s family. And she does a great job of expressing all the pain and love that comes along with it. It’s during the heartbreaking scenes where Kathryn is begging Billy to get help for his PTSD, that show the impact that war has on the families of soldiers.
There’s a disappointing flaw in this film: a storyline that doesn’t add any value to it. Lynn falls for a cheerleader while he’s at the Halftime show. The love interest has no importance to the script. If anything, it halts the important part. It seems to be thrown in to give the audience a relief from the heavy context. But, it doesn’t achieve that. Instead, it takes away from the important message of the real effects war has on its soldiers.
Overall, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a great and timely film. It’s a heartfelt story about the real effects soldiers have when they return home from duty. This film may even have the ability to change the perceptions many have about war. The media has a strong impact on all of us. It can make us believe things are one way when in reality they are completely different. Maybe this will be the film that makes society realize we can never understand the realities of war until we are there ourselves.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is in cinemas across Toronto Nov. 18.