“In war the heroes always outnumber the soldiers ten to one.” – H. L. Mencken
‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ is the big screen adaptation of an outstanding debut novel by Ben Fountain. His spectacular satire of the Gulf War and how it was perceived by those who had no real stake in fighting it deserved better than this movie version. The raves for director Ang Lee’s choice to go with the 120fps, 3-d technology are well deserved. It is candy to the eye and almost makes up for what’s wrong with the telling of the story.
Newcomer Joe Alwynn is the titular character, a man who was forced to enlist in the all-volunteer Army in order to avoid jail-time for something he did after his older sister “Kathryn” was dumped by her fiance. He winds up in a squad of soldiers led by “Shroom” (Vin Diesel) who appears to be a mixture of Yoda and Rambo.
In a battle captured by a news camera, Billy becomes a hero when he prevents Shroom from being taken prisoner and for his heroism, he is awarded the Silver Star. This leads to Billy, the squad’s new leader “SSgt David Dime” (Garrett Hudlund) and the rest of the squad being sent back to the U.S. by the Bush Administration for a “victory tour.” The two week odyssey will wrap up at the annual Thanksgiving NFL game hosted by the Dallas Cowboys and their owner, “Norm Oglesby” (Steve Martin). The squad is traveling with “Albert” (Chris Tucker) who is trying to make a deal to turn the squad’s story into a movie that will garner each of the members a payday of $100,000. Then there’s “Josh” (Ben Platt) who is the Cowboy organization employee responsible for taking care of the squad during their time at the stadium.
The film takes place on that Thanksgiving day, although there are flashbacks to Iraq, Billy’s return home at the outset of the victory tour and to other important moments in his life. The battle sequences are spaced out and the end of that battle isn’t revealed until late in the film’s final act. The soldiers are thanked, questioned, displayed and basically used as a public relations tool to promote a war whose purpose is called into question in several ways.
Newcomer Joe Alwynn does a great job as Billy Lynn, a man being pulled in so many directions by so many different people and agendas that it is a miracle he doesn’t just explode. Garrett Hedlund is perfect as the squad leader whose sardonic worldview pushes but doesn’t cross the very edge of the envelope of acceptability. For Steve Martin and Chris Tucker, this is their first live action films in several years, but you wouldn’t know it based on their solid turns in interesting roles for each.
The pacing feels wrong in several places, moving too quickly or too slowly. In the end, while the novel is highly recommended, the same cannot be said of the film adaptation.