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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Nov 21, 2016

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk Movie Review: Shows That People Don't Really Understand The Trauma Soldiers Experience In Battle

ANG LEE is the only Asian who has won the Oscar best director awards twice, for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Life of Pi”. Without any publicity, his latest work, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” was shown last week in local cinemas and, as may be expected, it was quickly withdrawn from cinemas due to lack of viewers. When we watched it in a local mall theater, there were less than ten people watching it, which is so “sayang”, because it’s a good film.

Based on the acclaimed best seller of the same title by Ben Fountain, the film is narrated by the eponymous hero, the 19-year old Billy Lynn (played by newcomer Joe Alwyn, who’s British). He has emerged as an overnight sensation, a hero soldier in Iraq, after he came to the rescue of his wounded superior, Sgt. Shroom (Vin Diesel), who eventually died. This was caught on a cellphone video and became viral.

As a reward, he and his fellow soldiers in his squad called Bravo are brought back home to be honored at the halftime show of the 2006 Thanksgiving Day football game in his native Texas’ Lone Star Dome. With them is a Hollywood producer/ agent, Albert (Chris Tucker, who has gained so much weight since “Rush Hour”), who says a possible movie deal might make them earn $100,000 each. The film happens in just a single day but, through flashbacks, we are shown what happened in Iraq and also, what Billy’s life with his family was before and after he fought in Iraq.

We learn that Billy became a soldier only to avoid jail time after his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart), who was badly injured and scarred in a terrible car crash, was suddenly dumped by her boyfriend, who he then assaulted. His sister now believes he no longer needs to return for another tour of duty in Iraq as he has already done his part.

Billy meets a beautiful cheerleader, Faison (Makenzie Leigh), and it looks like the start of a beautiful romance for them. But other people, like the football players, do not make a good connection with the soldiers and even felt antagonized when they won’t answer questions about hand-to-hand combat in detail and how it feels like to kill someone. Some guys even try to beat them up.

Also, the TV halftime producers just exploit them, asking them to put on their camouflage uniforms as a costume as it looks more battle ready on screen, when they’re just back up attraction to the performance of Destiny’s Child. Worse, the TV people use explosions and pyrotechnics on stage, not taking into consideration the fact that these young soldiers are still shell shocked from their recent harrowing war experiences.

The film satirically succeeds in showing that people so far away from the war lack a true understanding of the kind of trauma and sacrifices that soldiers have to go through while in the thick of battle. This movie is said to be shot using a new technology of ultra high frame rate of 120 frames per second to make it an immersive digital experience, but none of our cinemas have the projector to show it in this format so we got to watch it in the usual 24 frames.

Joe Alwyn gives a solid portrayal of the heroic soldier. He’s well supported by Vin Diesel as their ill fated commander, a role so far from his unkillable character in the “Fast & Furious” franchise. Vin probably accepted this just to get the chance to work with a prestigious Oscar winning filmmaker like Ang Lee.

The same goes for Steve Martin, who’s also good in a supporting role as a Dallas big wig who offers them a very cheap talent fee. Garrett Hedlund as Bravo’s hard ass lead officer also turns in a sterling performance, particularly when he takes down a Texas oil tycoon (Tim Blake Nelson). Kristen Stewart is touching as the scarred sister who tries her best to discourage Billy from returning to Iraq.