First Hit: A bittersweet story about war hero Billy Lynn figuring out who he is, what's important to him, and where he belongs.
In the context of being a soldier, doing what he was taught to do and being part of a team of men whom he cares about; he ends up with a Silver Star and Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is surprised by the attention of all this.
Billy has been a screw-up most of his life and while protecting the honor of his sister Katheryn (Kristen Stewart), he gets caught by the police. As done in many places in the USA, courts often let convicted criminals choose to join the military instead of jail time in hopes that the structure teaches young men responsibility. The structure helps him to be more responsible as does the close camaraderie between the diverse backgrounds of the men in his squad. He’s particularly taken by Squad leader "Shroom" (Vin Diesel) who pontificates about spirit and the spirituality behind all things.
The film begins with Billy coming home and getting ready to be honored for bravery with a victory tour and a half-time celebration at a Dallas Cowboys football game. Director Ang Lee uses flashbacks to give the audience the harrowing story of “Bravo” squad, as they engage in an intense fire fight in Iraq.
The best thing about the film is the juxtaposition between the fans, workers, cheerleaders, and football team owner Norm’s (Steve Martin) attitude and perception of the war and the men who fight it and what it means to be a hero. The film does this really well by cutting back and forth between the gun battle and the half-time celebration.
I related to the nervousness of the squad as loud noise and fireworks had them, in a nervous reflex, ducking for cover. I remember coming home from Vietnam and ducking and covering at every backfire from a car or startling loud noise.
Along with the celebration, all through the film there is a promoter Albert (Chris Tucker) who is attempting to get a deal for a film about the bravery of the squad. He makes it urgent because he can only get them big money while they are “hot” property. When Norm states that he's willing to fund their film, but only offers the men $5,500 each, Billy and Dime (Garrett Hedlund) take a firm stand. The story is not America’s but theirs and it cannot be bought for this very low price.
A film like this would need a love interest and here Billy runs into a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Faison (Makenzie Leigh) who admires the hero in Billy but does she even really see him? The idea of being close to a hero is effectively shared in their brief encounters and belies a real relationship.
Alwyn is very good in this role of naïve, yet worldly in the ways of life and death, young man. Martin is very effective as “America’s Football Team” owner. He is the personification of someone looking for an edge, notoriety, while taking advantage of situations for his own benefit. Diesel is strong as the philosophy spouting leader. Nice to see Diesel in a softer role. Hedlund is perfect as the toe the line new squad leader keeping his team together. Stewart is wonderful as the caring sister who feels responsible for her brother’s predicament. Leigh is great as the cheerleader who is more in love with a hero than the hero himself. Tucker is very believable as a promoter. Jean-Chrisophe Castelli wrote an interesting screenplay which takes on the challenge of showing the public's disconnect from the realities of war and yet wanting to own the heroes for their work. Lee effectively shows half-time pageantry, the behind the scenes of how the pageantry gets put together, and the battle scenes. His use of color is exquisite. This isn’t an easy story to tell but in Lee’s hands it works very well.
Overall: I was surprised by how much I ended up liking the film because the title actually put me off.