Ang Lee's One Trick Pony Is Lame
The young men of Bravo squad have returned home after a heroic battle and nineteen year old Billy Lynn needs to make sense of his life before he is deployed with his mates once again. And the time he has is during the flashy thanksgiving celebration football game takes us through a predictable journey where he compares the uncertainties of his life as a soldier to the mostly banal but ugly life as a civilian. The idea is spectacular but with so many political points being made, the film becomes gimmicky and trite. Not Ang Lee’s best work.
The hero is nineteen, but he has been through so much inhumanity and has seen death at such close quarters, that you smile when he actually shows you what he’s really thinking at the press-conference where the state is feting his squad as heroes. The press asks banal questions: what do you do during your down time? What was it like to kill enemy soldiers in a hand-to-hand combat? Did you feel heroic when you did that?
In a flash, black and white footage appears and we see Billy’s sergeant nicknamed ‘Dime’ give a true, cutting, sarcastic answer to these ridiculous questions. But in reality, the squad offers ‘human’, ‘almost cute’ answers with dignity.
Flashbacks are used with good reason as Billy realises he doesn’t belong in the world that has cheerleaders, tables overflowing with food, stadium shaped cakes, loud and proud to be American oilmen, an agent who wants to peddle the story as a movie, general public clueless and offensive, family that cares about him being ‘Hero’ but doesn’t understand him, a sister who understands what Billy has gone through in the war but wants to get him out in a way that can only be called dishonorable, and yes, a world that wants the soldiers back home, but does not see the PTSD that seems to be evident in every member of the Bravo squad.
Billy’s long walk seems to be an exercise in futility. It’s painful to watch the half-time show - all the spectacular fireworks and the music and the cheerleaders - all too cleverly juxtaposed with Billy Lynn’s dark thoughts. The film has been shot with love, so you cannot find fault with the over-the-top garishness, or the starkness of the war shots. But the ending is so predictable, you want watch Vin Diesel give Billy reasons to be in the war just one time.
(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)