Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

 

            There are lots of tensions in this movie, which the viewer will feel acutely along with the characters.

            Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is an American soldier on leave from Iraq.  His unit, the Bravo Squad, was captured on film in some battlefield heroics, particularly Billy.  So the surviving squad members (they lost their commanding sergeant) were brought home not just for R & R, but a PA Tour, where they were supposed to be the showpieces of America's Finest bravely defending our country.

            Except this was the War where we weren't exactly defending, we are invading Iraq because of the reports of “weapons of mass destruction,” only to not find them when we arrived.  You can blame the faulty intel or the overzealous White House or even the trap-baiting Sadam Hussein, but finger-pointing aside, we're over there, and our soldiers are in harm's way.

            Billy Lynn received a Silver Star for his personal heroism, but deep down, he's just a scared 19-year-old kid whose training kicked in at the right moment.  He obviously looked up to Shroom (Vin Diesel), the wounded Sergeant he was trying to save.  We learn from Billy's constant flashbacks that Shroom was the philosophical type, who would talk about karma, and even predestination.  He told Billy that if you're supposed to die, then the bullet with your name on it has already been fired.

            Now that Billy is Stateside again, he's glad to be out of the war zone, in a way, but in another way, he finds himself strangely uncomfortable with civilian life.  Going home feels weird, and not just because his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) keeps pressuring him to quit.  She's voicing the political opposition at the dinner table, but their Mother won't hear it.  The Dad is emotionally detached from everyone, and one of the reasons Billy enlisted in the first place was to help pay the medical expenses for Kathryn, who's had to face multiple surgeries after a bad car wreck.

            Really, Billy feels more comfortable with the guys in his unit than he does with his own family.  They have this kind of macho bravura going, that's based on the reality of shared experience.  They've been in combat together, and they've got each other's backs in a literal way, so they're not afraid to make fun of each other, or banter about girls, or even return some sarcasm to civilians, because their bond is strong.  Their devotion to their remaining leader, Sergeant Dime (Garrett Hedlund), is unquestioned.  And Dime, in turn, has singled out Spc. Lynn as someone who “gets it” in deployment, a valuable member of the team, which makes Billy wonder to himself if he really is cut out to be a soldier.  He doesn't think of himself as a “warrior,” one of those violence-loving hombres, but then, he also knows that he'd do anything to protect his fellow squad members.  If it came to that.

            Billy's unit is supposed to be part of the halftime spectacle at a Cowboys game, but all the explosions and glitz and loud noises aren't exactly soothing to these guys suffering from PTSD.  While Destiny's Child is giving their concert, the soldiers are supposed to stand at attention, not moving, while dancers writhe all around them, all in the name of “paying tribute” to them.  One of the cheerleaders, Faison (Makenzie Leigh) seems to take a shine to Billy, but somehow her attentions seem just part of the fabric of unreality surrounding this whole “hero tour.”

            We learn through Billy's flashbacks that there's nothing glamorous about being a soldier in a war zone, but his loyalty to his unit drives him to consider redeployment, despite his sister's pleadings.

            Yes, there's a lot of tension to go around here, including some unscheduled conflict with overzealous security guards, and even some gutsy pushback with a couple of arrogant civilian self-promoters.  The tension is just under the surface, everywhere they go, and for now, for Spc. Billy Lynn, that's just part of being who he's now becoming. 

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Have you known someone with PTSD?  How did the symptoms manifest themselves?

2)                  Should the United States have invaded Iraq in the first place?  Should we still be over there?

3)                  How does your politics influence your view of the military?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association