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Drama of the Absurd

Saturday, November 12, 2016
By Deepa Gahlot

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Ang Lee
Cast: Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, Makenzie Leigh, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin and others.
Rating: * * *

Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is only nineteen-years-old when he is deployed with a unit of young soldiers in Iraq. Walking into an ambush, high on adrenaline, bravado and patriotism, he is caught on camera in an act of extraordinary heroism, he jumped in front of enemy fire to help his wounded sergeant, (Vin Diesel).

Ang Lee’s gentle satire, based on Ben Fountain’s 2012 novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, captures what happens to the boys of the Bravo Squad after the event. They are paraded around as heroes and attain temporary celebrity status.

The film is as critical of war as it is of America’s preoccupation with showmanship and reality shows. The Bravo Squad is taken to a football game in Texas on Thanksgiving, with all the absurdity that entails, prancing cheer leaders, idiotic photo ops, being paraded like zombies at a Destiny’s Child concert, and a jinxed movie offer included.

In between their exciting and ultimately humiliating day at the game, courtesy media baron (Steve Martin, suitably glib), the film flashes back to Billy’s ordinary life, his closeness to his sister (Kristen Stewart), and shyness with girls. Billy, with his innocent eyes and baby-ish lips looks like a boy forced too soon to become an all-American hero, even if it’s for a day. The end of that eventful day, will decide the course of his life, and his choice is predictable.

The enthusiasm of the American public for war, and their insensitivity towards the young men they push into this needless violence is criticized. Every time there is a loud bang or fireworks, the soldiers involuntarily flinch; this being the only outward expression of their trauma. Anything more would be construed as cowardice.

Because of star director Ang Lee, actors like Diesel, Stewart, Martin and Chris Tucker (as a  garrulous fixer) attach themselves to the project, for a change, Diesel gets to spout some Hindu philosophy instead of decimating the enemy single-handed.  Young Joe Alwyn carries the film on his newbie shoulders, and there’s a possibility of an Oscar nod there.  It’s impossible to figure why the world is going crazy, Lee’s film offers just a little glimpse of the madness.

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