Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is one of the most stunning bait and switches in recent cinematic memory; while the film at first seems to be a classic story of patriotism, it quickly divulges into a clever satire on everything from the media to our perception of heroism. It’s ridiculously clever, and while it occasionally falters to bring across the message, it’s a bold and inventive film that pushes the boundaries of cinema.
Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is a nineteen year old soldier made famous by his heroic actions in Iraq, which draws the attention of a Hollywood producer (Chris Tucker). Lynn’s squad, led by Sergeant David Dime (Garrett Hedlund), is invited by the owner of the Dallas Cowboys (Steve Martin) to participate in the halftime show of a Thanksgiving home game. With the growing concern of his older sister (Kristin Stewart), Billy questions what it means to be a hero, and what the future holds for him and his squad.
Lee uses this spectacle to question how heroism is perceived, using each character’s agenda as a means to use Billy’s heroism to their own benefit. It’s a startling truth, and Lee doesn’t hold back with the genuine emotion. There’s nothing glamorized about the story, with the film promptly showing these characters as people, not objects. Much of this comes through in the central performance by Alwyn, an absolute breakthrough who’s sincerity of a performance is one of the year’s best.
The film is awkward and jarring at times, but that’s exactly the point. While some of the visuals cues are odd, the film’s last act is so surprisingly powerful that it amends many of the qualms some may have with the technology. It’s a soundly un-Hollywood film; Lee has made a movie that plays by his own rules and delivers hard hitting truths and complexities that wouldn’t work under any other director. Grade: -A