In the complicated adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) returns to the United States a hero, having dragged his sergeant, Shroom (Vin Diesel), out of a firefight. But his unit is incorrectly labeled “Bravo Squad” by the press seeking a war hero, and they return home to be celebrated at a Dallas Cowboys football game. In the midst of this celebration of his act of bravery, Lynn reflects on how things really went down, how dangerous it was, and how troubling the things he saw were.
Lynn’s return home is further complicated by his interaction with his sister (Kristen Stewart), whose injuries he caused in a car accident before enlisting, and the way that his unit is received by those in the stadium from fans to the owner (Steve Martin) to a cheerleader (Mackenzie Leigh) who takes an interest in him. Mixed in with the clash of realities – NFL football celebrating heroes and flashbacks to the wartime – is a deal that a studio agent (Chris Tucker) is trying to work out to tell the unit’s story. Ang Lee’s delivery of the story mixes a blend of visuals, a diversity of story, and a dark humor that shines a light on the way that the average American can’t imagine the reality of those defending freedom (or at least American enterprise) around the world.
Yes, there are lighter moments: JJ Watt and Richard Sherman as Cowboys? But we’re really unpacking the way that the soldiers are dragged around to bandy support and money, manipulated for the agendas of others. It’s a sharp contrast to the sharp view that the remaining sergeant, Dime (Garret Hedlund), takes to the various conversations that blithely bring the war into the world of football. (Seriously, how many metaphors for war can be used to describe football, which is certainly not life or death?) It clashes against the philosophies which Shroom shared with Lynn while they were at war, and with the way Lynn’s heart has been torn open by what he’s seen while at war.
Ultimately, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a tough watch that challenges us to consider what we think of those who fight, what we believe about ourselves, and what we hold true in times of conflict and peace. Spiritually-inflected and well acted, the film finds resolution but probably not what the audience is hoping for when the film begins.
On Sony’s Blu-ray, special features include a lesson from Ang Lee on putting it all together in “Into Battle and Onto the Field,” a look at how the cast was assembled, a behind-the-scenes look with halftime show producer Don Mischer in “Recreating the Halftime Show,” and a feature on how the crew actually trained through boot camp for “The Brotherhood of Combat.”