Written by: Ben Fountain (based on the novel by), Jean-Christophe Castelli (screenplay)
Directed by: Ang Lee
Starring: Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Arturo Castro, Chris Tucker, Steve Martin, Makenzie Leigh, Vin Diesel
My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!
After a harrowing Iraq battle, nineteen year old Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is commemorated by his hometown. He's become a commodity where people want to make money off his heroic encounter, but no one cares about his well being.
It's a war movie that takes place after the troops return home. I've seen this called anti-war but I didn't feel that. Being a soldier changes a person's mindset and most people are completely insensitive to the effect war has on soldiers. This gives you a little bit of insight into that. What happens stays with them, and most people are insensitive and ignorant.
It boasts strong characters and a focused plight, though Billy's romance feels fabricated.
This film has been labeled anti-war and thus anti-American. I don't want to argue that, it's been discussed plenty, but what I took away is that this is trying to provide a little bit of perspective on how war changes you. War is hard, there's no debating that. Questions and comments that seem innocuous can have an impact. At any minute a sound or visual can transport some soldiers back to the battlefield.
Almost everyone we see is insensitive and lacks understanding. It's mistreatment by ignorance. The big half time show is full of pyrotechnics and loud sounds. It rattles more than a few of the troops.
While Billy's sister derides the war stating it's about money and politics, she also doesn't want her brother to go back to Afghanistan and risk his life again. Does she really believe the war is a farce or is that her reasoning to persuade him to seek a discharge?
Joining the military helped shape Billy. Does that outweigh his experiences and losing a friend? He's faced with the chance to avoid re-deploying. His sister urges him not to, but at the same time he has guys that count on him.
When Billy assisting a fellow soldier during an encounter is caught on film, Bravo team is put on television. From the beginning Bravo team is regarded as heroes, but the people promoting them are doing so for selfish reasons. The media doesn't see these guys as humans. People want to latch on and share the spotlight because the team is a commodity.
The plot revolves around them being included into a football half time show while a producer (Chris Tucker) tries to sell their story as a movie.While everyone wants to celebrate them, they are dealing with heavy emotions. Billy admits, “It’s sort of weird, being honored for the worst day of your life.” No matter what they say, each of these soldiers is on the verge of snapping. They don't fit into society. They fought a war, a matter of life and death, but they're so young.
This is a portrayal of a soldier unlike anything I've ever seen. While Billy is depicted as vulnerable, that doesn't make him less heroic or tough. This sets you up so you see how insensitive people are. In the football locker room the players ask him what it's like to kill someone. While the football players are giddy, Billy knows what that's like and their interest and reaction make him uncomfortable, and by extension us. The whole Bravo team is put on a press tour and asked to discuss personal things, like a friend dying. Even the military is using them for an advantage and to engender support.
The performances are good all around. They feel like a unit that's worked together. Hedlund and Alwyn are great. I was impressed that Vin Diesel took a small role like this.
Billy's romance with a cheerleader feels fabricated. It's an instant connection and she becomes a staunch defender of soldiers. It just feels off, like she's there to voice thoughts that couldn't be worked into the script organically. It almost seems like hero worship, but it's more to it than that. She's interested in Billy as a person, but their connection happens way too quickly.
Ang can flat out direct, and this script is engrossing. While it borders on the surreal at times, namely the romance, everything builds to create this narrative. It’s a war movie, certainly, but not one that takes place on the battlefield.
It lays bare the divide between civilian and soldier a few times. Sergeant Dime (Garrett Hedlund) lays an oil tycoon out, figuratively. The tycoon tries to equate his greed and business as doing something for the troops, like somehow they have a connection. Dime tells him off. "Don't frack on our account, you got your business, we got ours." It's an outstanding monologue. The tycoon doesn't do anything for or in memory of soldiers. They serve distinct and separate purposes.
Billy is pulled in multiple directions with everyone wanting to be his friend. Only a couple of people are truly looking out for him. People champion soldiers only as long as it benefits them. Few understand or even care to, but this movie provides insight into what it's like.