Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: Adapting Your Story

On November 11, Oscar-winning director Ang Lee follows up his visually stunning Life of Pi with an exploration of the modern American soldier:

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

by Ben Fountain

Movie: directed by Ang Lee, and written by Jean-Christophe Castelli


Book: 3.25 out of 5 stars

When I started reading Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, I was not sure what I was entering.  I have nothing but respect for military personnel, and I fully believe they are thrown to the dogs and then abandoned upon return.  Growing up amid the post 9/11 Middle Eastern conflicts, embedded by what we used to think were crazy Republican led government (oh, how the times have gotten somehow more depressing), rampant yet seemingly meaningless patriotism flooded my Ohio Valley area like I’d never before seen.  Billy Lynn takes a sometimes comedic-sometimes philosophical-sometimes depressing take on the treatment of soldiers in modern society.

The action takes place during a Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys game at the tail-end of a Victory Tour for Bravo Squad, an Iraq War unit who gained notoriety after being caught on Fox News coverage during an ambush resulting in minimal American casualties.  Ushered through the stadium with flashbacks to the war and focalpoint Billy’s brief visit with his family, we find the ugly side of patriotism as movie producers, football bigwigs, and the government vie to get their piece of the Bravo Squad’s moment of fame, stripping them of their peace as they prepare to begin another tour of duty.  Billy meets a tantalizing cheerleader, flirts with Destiny’s Child’s shadow, and have promises gradually ripped from under them during the game.  Heralded as heroes but treated as commodities and disposables, Long Halftime Walk sneaks up on the reader, even if it takes a touch too long, to highlight the false face behind American exceptionalism and paying dues to those who actually have earned their freedom.

Ang Lee was touted as a frontrunner for more awards attention by not only taking on the successful military genre (American Sniper, Lone Survivor) but also by shooting in groundbreaking high-definition.  My curiosity is why he expected a satirical novel to provide a medium for him to require such high frame  rate.  His talent mixed with longtime collaborator Jean-Christophe Castelli on script duties, relieving James Schamus since he caught the directing bug with the stellar Indignation.  I feel they may have grasped at the juicier dramatic moments and overblown the infamous battle and extravagant halftime show rather than explore the real issues facing returning veterans.

The star studded cast is likely a downfall.  Kristen Stewart is drawing attention with the concerned sister role, as everyone (including me) is vying for her to get post-Twilight retribution.  Steven Martin is likely wasted as the Dallas Cowboy’s owner, bringing down his high comedy that could have been better used as Albert, the movie producer attempting to sell their story.  Chris Tucker, who plays Albert, feels out of place for his style of comedy; there would likely have been more potential placing Chris Rock as the Cowboys’ owner.  Newcomer Joe Alwyn, taking lead as title character Billy Lynn, prepping for his next starring role in the fantastic The Sense of an Ending, will hopefully moderate the masculine disquiet with youthful exuberance.  His role provides juicy material, but the use of his pinballing, alcohol fueled last day of freedom may not be explored when attempting to make this film appeal to the American Sniper crowd.

It seems I’ve had a rough year in reading book to movie adaptations.  American Pastoral appears to be a wreck, and The Girl on the Train and The Light Between Oceans were bestseller fiction created to appeal to the masses.  Sure, you want to make money, but the titles are drawing audiences in, not the melodrama.  Fortunately, Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta is pushing me to read Alice Munro’s Runaway and Denzel Washington’s Fences will provide a quick introduction to the classic play.  I anticipate greater pleasure on both the reading and seeing sides of those works.  As for Billy Lynn, I will likely not be engaging with this troupe in theaters.


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