Based on the book by Ben Fountain, we follow the story of 19-year-old war hero, Billy Lynn (Jow Alwyn). He returns home from battle, having done a courageous and selfless act in an attempt to save a fellow soldier, Shroom (Vin Diesel). We follow a day in his life as he struggles with returning home from the war and adapting to day-to-day life, and how the public disrespectfully perceives his experience in the war. His squadron is preparing to do a half time show at a football match, and as the day goes on, we’re shown flashbacks to the war, triggered by his PTSD, which his sister (Kristen Stewart) hopes he can use as a reason to leave the war behind.
When I say this feels like a true story, I’m referring to how authentic and well realised everything is. The characters are all three-dimensional, each one with layers and depth, no matter how minor their role is. They all have a history, and their relations with one another feel as though there’s a lot more to them than meets the surface. Creating a highly developed series of characters is no easy accomplishment, but with Billy Lynn, it’s well and truly achieved. Every singe person feels real, whether it’s Billy himself or squadron leader Dime (Garrett Hedlund) or even Billy’s dad (Bruce McKinnon), who appears on screen for literally two minutes.
Ang Lee is a director I admire greatly. Over his career, he has made some incredible movies, most of which are highly ambitious. When it comes to Billy Lynn, he turns this simple war drama (well, sort of simple war drama) into an art house movie, and while I have no problem with art house movies, the artsy nature doesn’t work. It’s a highly stylized film, and if he used this style in a better-suited movie, it could potentially fit. Some films call for this style. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is not one of them. It’s trying to be way too many things as it is, and adding an art house style into the mix just makes this film a little bit more difficult to sit through.