BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALF TIME WALK
19-year-old private Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, the film reveals what really happened to the squad - contrasting the realities of the war with America's perceptions.
Review by Louise Keller:
Two worlds collide in this emotionally dizzying personal experience of a young soldier thrust in the midst of war and celebrity. There's a confrontational aspect to both war and celebrity and Ang Lee's film offers an intensely subjective and personal view captured through its close-up cinematography and sharp editing as we flit back and forth from the past to the present. Adapted from Ben Fountain's acclaimed novel, first time screenwriter Jean-Christoph Castelli has captured all the nuances, while London born Joe Alwyn (reminiscent of a young Matt Damon) makes a stunning screen debut as 19 year old private Billy Lynn, who relies on his instincts in all things. It's an engrossing and potent film: we feel as though we are inside Billy's head and we know exactly what he is thinking and feeling.
The brief opening sequence takes us to Iraq on October 23, 2004, where we witness Joe's heroic actions as he comes to the aid of his wounded sergeant colleague Shroom (Vin Diesel) on the battlefield. Captured on camera and sent around the world, it is this event that precipitates everything that follows.
We settle into Joe's present reality as he piles into a black Hummer stretch limousine along with the other members of his squadron Bravo, en route for the Dallas Cowboys' Thanksgiving halftime show. Everything feels unreal. As the brief flashbacks rhythmically take us back and forth into the past, we begin to understand Joe. We meet his Texas family and his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart), the girl with the scar who feels responsible for her brother's recruitment. She is trying to convince him to opt out of his deployment. The limo window suddenly morphs into that of a jeep in war-torn Iraq navigating the life and death bumps in the road. We observe the relationships and the bonds between the soldiers. 'It doesn't have to be about God or country,' Shroom tells him. 'Just try to find something bigger than yourself.'
There's a crass reality about the stadium where the war heroes are acclaimed in the same breath as an advertisement on erectile dysfunction. Showtime is equally crass, when scantily clad cheerleaders, gymnastics, fireworks and loud music are accompaniment to integrity and patriotism. By this time, we understand Joe well, and like him, we become dizzy as the camera twirls around him on stage amidst the hoop-la.
Also crass are the negotiations by Albert (Chris Tucker), the fast-talking, deal making manager, looking for a movie deal. Steve Martin is terrific as the Cowboys owner, who sees kudos in signing up but is reluctant to pay a fair price. Watch for Makenzie Leigh as the pretty Christian cheerleader Faison Makenzie Leigh with whom Joe is infatuated. She is the groupie, swept away by the celebrity. Her response when Joe playfully suggests they run away together is telling.
The film's most powerful moment comes when we are taken back in time to that split second when Joe races to Shroom's side amid gunfire in Iraq in a bid to save him. That is when we feel as though we are in Joe's head: we can see what he sees and feel how he feels. It puts into context the ludicrous nature of an earlier question that asked Joe what it was like to be in hand to hand combat with an insurgent, faced with death.
Much has been written about Ang Lee's groundbreaking vision with cinematographer John Toll's shooting of the film at a speed of 120 frames per second (instead of 24). Australian audiences will not be able to experience these technical feats, however. This is an affecting and meticulously made film that provides much food for thought about life, war and the world in which we live.
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BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALF TIME WALK (MA15+)
CAST: Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Deirdre Lovejoy, Tim Blake Nelson, Beau Knapp
PRODUCER: Simon Cornwell, Stephen Cornwell, Ang Lee, Marc Platt, Tom Rothman, Rhodri Thomas
DIRECTOR: Ang Lee
SCRIPT: Jean-Christoph Castelli (novel by Ben Fountain)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Toll
EDITOR: Tim Squyres
MUSIC: Jeff Dana, Mychael Danna
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Friedberg
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 24, 2016