Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin and Chris Tucker
Based on the novel by Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk sees the titular soldier (Joe Alwyn) and his unit on a promotional tour around the US after being declared heroes following a minor skirmish in Iraq, circa 2004. The centrepiece of the tour is their appearance during the halftime show during a Dallas Cowboys game, with the whole film taking place on that day. Over the course of the day, Billy ruminates on the events that have brought him there, and the contrast between his life in the military and the garish, often gauche America he sees around him.
In Lee’s film, the War on Terror is being fought not to free Iraq (ha!) or even to secure oil supplies, but to enact the myth of American Exceptionalism in order to justify the culture of American Excess. Billy and his squadmates are Roman Legionaries returned in triumph, offered up the spoils of the Empire. the irony is that their experiences have rendered them unable to enjoy those spoils, be they sumptuous banquets (they treat dining halls like chow lines), the praise of the citizenry (their reactions range from puzzlement to hostility) or even the patriotic gratitude of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (Billy has almost no idea what to do with Makenzie Leigh’s moist-eyed ingenue).
The one thing they could use – a movie deal that could give them enough economic freedom to get out of the Army – they are denied, no matter how hard Chris Rock’s fast-talking agent tries to sell the idea to Steve Martin’s venal plutocrat. These men are heroes, but only up to a point, and that point is where their sacrifice has to be viewed as something concrete, and not just symbolic. The point is where it must be acknowledged that what they have endured, what all combat soldiers have endured, might be worth more than a soldier’s paycheque and a bit part in a Destiny’s Child halftime routine.
Halftime Walk is a satire, albeit not necessarily a funny one. The America Lee finds through his lens is a ridiculously overblown caricature of itself, draped in flags and bunting, filled with fast food and fast cars, and peopled by grotesquely obese consumers mouthing platitudes about honour, duty and sacrifice. That’s what Billy and his friends have been fighting for. That’s the punchline.