Memorial Day will soon be upon us, the unofficial start of summer and the summer movie blockbuster season for most Americans. I get a weird feeling of ambivalence whenever the holiday comes around, but with this new trailer for the film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, that feeling suddenly became one of apprehension and anxiety, with a little bit of morbid curiosity thrown into the mix:
I have not heard anything about this film up until today, nor have I read the best selling novel. The synopsis directly from this trailer release by Sony Pictures fills me in:
Director Ang Lee brings his extraordinary vision to Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, based on the widely-acclaimed, bestselling novel. The film is told from the point of view of 19-year-old private Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, the film reveals what really happened to the squad – contrasting the realities of the war with America’s perceptions.
The film also stars Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, with Vin Diesel, and Steve Martin. Lee used new technology, shooting at an ultra-high frame rate for the first time in film history, to create an immersive digital experience helping him dramatize war in a way never seen before.
That's quite a bit to unpack, though I must be perfectly honest and admit the overall tone of the trailer strikes me as disgustingly maudlin. I know a lot of people might not want to hear that about what seems to be a well meaning piece of fiction touching on an important issue, and I especially understand if other fellow veterans think I'm being too hard on this just because I'm writing for what's probably perceived as a liberal-lefty website. I have to say though, I'm pretty fuckin tired of all this. There's been too many good people lost, too much damage done, too much at stake for the future for me to accept the lionization of combat and the real time 'nostalgification' of an overriding conflict we have yet to really conclude.
Though I have my reservations and though I am unfamiliar with the source material, there does appear to be an earnest attempt to present a more well-rounded take of these issues. And though I haven't had the privilege of standing in formation at a big league sporting event, I have been apart of many ceremonies supposedly in my praise that have made me awfully uncomfortable. I think the shocked deer-in-headlights look of the baby-faced newcomer Joe Alwyn reflects that well enough. There also appears to be an implication that the film's underlying point will be that blind praise of our men and women in uniform is indeed to their detriment as human beings and our national consciousness as a whole.
Beyond that...well hey, its Vin Diesel! And I know some people have their issues with her non-presence, but I think Kristen Stewart has been genuinely growing as an actor and what I've seen of her beyond the Twilight films has me curious. As far as Ang Lee goes, he's generally hit or miss for me, but when he hits it's usually a home run. That's a good enough batting average for any director, though I must admit I find this “ultra-high frame rate immersive digital experience” business intriguing. It remains to be seen if it will be a genuinely groundbreaking tool that adds to the handling of this sensitive subject matter, or if it will be a cheap gimmick wasted another banal piece of flag-waving.
Taking all this into consideration, I'll keep an open mind about Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk when it finally hits on Veterans Day, though my skepticism will likely remain until then. If any of you have any knowledge about this story that might assuage my fears, please feel free to expound on it in the comments below.