Beach: ‘Billy Lynn’ risky but rewarding



“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is an indie film worth a watch.

Ang Lee, best known for “The Life of Pi”, directs this indie film and his risky moves pay off.

“Billy Lynn” was initially expected to be a serious Oscar contender upon festival buzz, but was held back by a limited release and a less than stellar response from critics. Nonetheless, this is a good film.

It’s an important story and the style of direction from Lee is spot on. Billy Lynn, played by first time actor Joe Alwyn, is the lead. He plays an army unit member who has returned from Iraq in 2004. The film focuses heavily on Lynn’s battle with post traumatic stress disorder.

Lynn’s unit is being honored at the halftime show of what is supposed to be a Dallas Cowboys game before they ship out to Iraq for another tour.

The film also stars Garrett Hedlund as the unit’s sergeant, Steve Martin as the Dallas football team’s owner and Kristen Stewart as Lynn’s sister.

While “Billy Lynn” was enjoyable, it has noticeable flaws.

There were some issues in the script without a doubt. Several members of Lynn’s unit were played by lesser actors and some of their lines felt forced.

Still, despite these flaws, I found myself gravitating toward the characters. The film succeeds in its ability to feel realistic and connect to real life issues.

“Billy Lynn” is the first film this year that truly feels like it’s happening right in front of you. It takes place in a matter of a few days as Lynn initially returns home from Iraq and days later goes to the game in Dallas.

The majority of the film takes place in a few-hour span while they’re at the game but includes multiple flashbacks to the battlefield in Iraq.

It takes a while to develop and the viewer wonders where the story is going for a while but it comes together nicely.

The main performances are also a thing of beauty.

Stewart proved her versatility as the caring sister of Billy. Martin is convincing as the conceited Dallas owner and Vin Diesel does a nice job as Lynn’s wartime companion. Hedlund really shined in his role as the no-nonsense sergeant.

And Joe Alwyn shines as Billy Lynn. He auditioned for Lee having never been in a movie and was even quoted later on as saying he didn’t know how American football worked. It doesn’t show in the film.

He was well deserving of a role this big, and while this year is shaping up to be competitive,  I would not be surprised to see him as an Academy Award finalist.

Lee’s direction was another huge key.

Lee’s use of close ups and imagery through flashbacks and Lynn’s PTSD make for a wild ride. “Billy Lynn” felt like a cross between “Fruitvale Station” and “Birdman,” so I see why it was initially  heralded as a serious Oscar contender.

The critical response likely should hinder this from happening, but Lee deserves praise for taking risks and letting them shine through in his film.

It’s an important, feel good story with innovative visuals and a real life feel. See this movie in the theater if it’s showing in your town.

Final Grade: B