This film by
Oscar-winning director Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain") marries high-def film with a low-cal
story centering on a bunch of soldiers hanging around at a football game
while we await a big revelation that never arrives.
Billy Lynn (played with considerable heart by newcomer Joe Alwyn) is a
soldier on leave back home in Texas, where he and his squadmates are to
be fêted at the halftime show held during a fictional Dallas football
team’s Thanksgiving Day game. Bily Lynn is the star of what became an
indelible photo of the Iraq War: After his sergeant (Vin Diesel) came
under fire, Billy dashed out into the open to save him. The sergeant
died in the fighting anyway, and now Billy is stricken with survivor’s
guilt, PTSD and political disillusionment.
He and his comrades in arms intend to make the most of their
stateside jaunt, partying with cheerleaders and accepting applause.
Instead, they are cheated by the football team’s ruthless owner (Steve
Martin), disappointed by their agent (Chris Tucker) who's trying to
sell their story to Hollywood, and generally disgusted by the
capitalist depravity around them.
The problem with the film is that it's
lazy and shallow, like that college freshman who’s home for the holidays
and eager to tell you all about what he learned from “The Marx-Engels
Reader.” Based on a novel by Ben Fountain, The film goes to silly
extremes to make the point that our soldiers are hapless victims of
crass exploitation by a gluttonous, imperialist and vapid American
culture: Twice within a matter of hours, Texas rednecks — not generally
noted for being anti-military or unpatriotic — start fights with the
soldiers, underlining Fountain’s dreary term-paper point that the Iraq
War was the logical outcome of America’s vices.
Mistaking condescension for sympathy, the film may please the
militant pacifists but few others will be fooled: File this one among
the previous spate of strident anti-Iraq War movies, all of
which flopped. Like those dreadful earlier films, this one shoehorns in
stale Huffington Post talking points, this time rattled off by Kristen
Stewart as Billy’s sister, who tries to steer him into getting himself
declared unfit for service by a shrink. Billy sees this as dishonorable
(I guess), but director Ang Lee doesn’t explore the point: Lots of close-ups of Billy
looking sad are as far as they go into psychology.
Apart from a few minutes of flashback battle footage, which builds to
a climax that doesn’t change anything, the movie mostly consists of
tiresome nudge-nudging (message: “Can’t you idiots see the Iraq War was
bad?”). Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk wishes it were something like “The Hurt Locker.”
Instead, it’s more like “The Snark Locker.”