Billy Lynn's Long Half-time Walk is a film that is as relevant to the US as it is to Indians.
The film is set during the Iraq war in 2004. Army specialist William 'Billy' Lynn (debutante Joe Alwyn) has just come back from his assignment in Iraq, along with his team, nicknamed Bravo. It was a harrowing experience for Billy right from the start. He is disillusioned and is finding it hard to reconnect with his family and the 'normal' world.
During his time in Iraq, his guru-like comrade Shroom (Vin Diesel) gets shot at, and Billy performs an “act of heroism”. It is caught on camera, and gets widely reported back home.
They are taken on a homecoming tour on return. It culminates on the day of the Dallas Cowboys' Thanksgiving Home game in Texas, where they are to be promoted on a stage show during the half-time.
It was more a PR exercise by the Department of Defence than anything, as the boys soon realise, to garner public support for the Iraq war.
Billy and the “bunch of clowns”, as they are referred to by commander Sgt David Dime (Garrett Hedlund), are barely over 25. Billy is only 19 and he already has the tag of “war hero” attached to him.
Amid the comforts of a limousine, a barrage of compliments and granting of a VIP status, the tour soon becomes a jarring reminder of its frivolity. Their “stage show” turns out to be a disturbing experience, as they are paraded around on national television, watched by 40 million people. When 'normal' people seem strange and farcical to the boys, they realise that they're better off in a war zone than their homeland.
The film is based on Ben Fountain's book by the same name, and Oscar-winning director Ang Lee manages to keep the satirical humour intact in its on-screen adaptation. He also succeeds in drawing out the glaring absurdity of the whole situation, as Fountain intended with his book. Lee's film is as good as the best anti-war films in Hollywood history. Like Jarhead and Full Metal Jacket, it imagines how war alters a soldier's life forever.
Every time a seemingly ordinary situation plays out, Billy remembers his days in Iraq. It is through these flashbacks that we know what exactly happened during the crossfire that killed Shroom.
We get a glimpse into Billy's PTSD-affected mind, as he jumps in fear at loud noises and fire crackers that sound eerily similar to explosions and gun shots.
Every character in the film has a purpose, as they represent certain sections of society, each of which react to war and the army differently. Norm Oglesby (Steve Martin), who owns the home baseball team, wants to produce a film about Billy's wartime story. Makenzie Leigh plays Faison, an “awakened soul” in a cheerleader's avatar, who sympathises and stands up for the soldiers. Kristen Stewart plays Billy's sister, who is worried sick that her brother has to go back to the battleground.
The film is set in 2004—when social media discussions were not yet a big thing. Instead, trolls and hate-mongers carelessly joke around a bit too offensively, and also try to beat them up.
Sure, some scenes look patchy and some dialogues preachy. But, that is probably needed. Some things need to be spelt out as they are there to drive home the point. The film, like Lee's Life of Pi, also has something more than what is obvious.
There are times when the film becomes meta, and addresses its own medium with disdain. It articulates what happens after people watch a film about war heroes—they go back home and then forget the “act of heroism” and get caught up in their lives.
Everyone is interested in how it felt to kill someone and what it felt like to be on the battlefield, but only because of the drama that it supposedly involves.
You are likely to come off feeling remorseful about your own comforts after the film. It forces you to think hard about what soldiers stationed at the borders, and those who have come back, go through. When we, the ones who have no idea about it, speak to them like we understand, but do not want to be involved in their problems.
It makes you want to look up how our own Army men are treated and if they get what they deserve. For all the talk of nationalism and “caring” about the Army, it looks frivolous to ban a film or actors instead of looking at how we treat our soldiers.
Film: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Joe Alwyn, Steve Martin, Makenzie Leigh, Garrett Hedlund, Chris Tucker, Vin Diesel