2016年11月15日 星期二

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (比利·林恩的中場戰事)

War is always eye-catching. War means excitement for children, huge profits for  armament merchants, a chance to test newly developed weapons for military scientists, heartbreaking farewells for lovers, a chance to display its national might for the mega-nations out ostensibly for divers noble-sounding "just causes", a bid for honor and glory for young adults good at nothing except displays of barely provoked gang  violence, often sorrows for mothers. Is that all? This is what Lee Ang, three-time Academy award winning director, sets out to explore in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk(2016) a film done with the latest 3-D technology (reality) ie. shot with 120 frame per second instead of the usual 24.

The story, written by Jean-Christophe Castelli, based on the novel of the same name by Ben Fountain, recounts how 19 year-old Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) from the mid-American state of Texas, joined the army, underwent some hell-hole boot camp training, put into what's become known as the specialist Bravo Squad, saw action in Iraq, together with some 7 other fellow soldiers, viz. Dime ( Garrett Hedlund ) Mango (Arturo Castro) Foo (Mason Lee), Brian 'Astro' Bradley( Lodis) Crack (Beau Knapp), Holliday (Ismael Cruz Cordova) Sykes ( Barney Harris), how he lost his favorite sergeant and father-like mentor Shroom ( Vin Diesel) in a widely reported war episode, decorated as a war hero and then put on promotional tour by US Defense Department intended to evoke patriotism in young Americans to get them to join the army which ended at the half time of an American football game in Texas on Thanksgiving Day.  The story is told mainly from his point of view and constantly cross-cuts from various images from the start of the promotional tour inside an armoured troop carrying vehicle normally driven by Billy during the war in Iraq and the various stages in the promotional tour to flash-backs to various scenes in Billy's training, a brief visit to his family, and scenes of action in Iraq.

In between the start and the end of the promotional tour, we learn of how because of a horrible accident which completely disfigured his sophomore sister Faison (Makenzie Leigh) which required some 89 face and body reconstruction operations and as a result got dumped by his boyfriend, an act which provoked such rage in Billy that that he destroyed her boyfriends's brand new car with a sledge hammer and beat him up good and as a result was spared a jail term only on condition that he joined the army, how some Iraqi underground resistance fighter had to lie to escape being caught, how nothing made any sense in war, how in the war one could think of little except to avoid being killed or be killed oneself, how comradeship, honesty,  and mutual trust had to be and was forged in the crucible of war between fellow soldiers as necessity for the sake of mere physical survival, how that honesty contrasted with the superficial and sentimental nonsense about patriotism, honor, glory, justice and other so-called core American values and hypocrisy practised by the US Government, by a very Bible belt type mid-American family, the American media, the music industry and generally pervading every nook and corner of American society, where glib talk and routinised and well-manicured image projection about American dreams and ideals all turned out to be little but gobedygook and had nothing at all to do with what's really going on: a production agent claiming to be doing his best to get sponsorship for a film about the heroism of the Bravo Squad, the owner of a minor media mogul offering peanuts for the soldiers' participation in the proposed film, a smug and self-righteous small time oil merchant out to thank the soldiers for helping to liberate Iraq by getting rid of Saddam Hussein, a teenage cheerleader, daughter of a beauty queen out to profit from Billy's moment of fame by professing to instantly falling in love with him but and kissing him on the lips in private and opening taking his arm in full view of TV cameras but when it's time for Billy to leave after the half time show, was prepared to say only that she would remember him in her prayers.

When the film ends, we see Billy rejecting Faison's offer for an honorary discharge on psychological grounds which she had carefully engineered every step of the way so that Billy might be spared the horrors of war. Billy opted for the reality of the battlefield. Perhaps that's the only way he could think of where he could find a semblance of genuine concern by one human being for another, man to man, an honesty which perhaps only the imminent threat of death can fire in a man's heart. Perhaps, as Shroom once said  to him, it's only in the dirt and muck of the battlefield that one can find himself.

I like the very strong contrast which Lee Ang is able to produce by his Proust-like flash-backs between three faces of reality, that of the senses in the here and now, that of the human mind and the human heart which flits across time into the past and perhaps into the unknown future, something rather more permanent, something which smacks a little of eternity, free from the hurly-burly of the tinsel town-like movie of American life, where money, power, images and hypocrisy and all kinds of lies reign supreme. The 3-D images are skilfully used to enhance an in-the-face experience of the reality of a brutal war where the choices are dictated by nothing but the logic of physical survival: my life or yours and nothing about values, justice and all the whitewashing propagandist doublespeak engaged in by politicians on either side.I like too the performance of Joe Alwyn who portrays so well the average American kid who had been brought up in true American values and who learned about grim realities of war first hand and who chose, finally to remain honest to himself rather than to be gobbled up by the superficial American commercial culture at home where everything has become a spectacle tailor-made for public consumption for the ultimate end of turning in what's hoped to be the coveted capitalst profit by going back to active duty in Iraq at the end of the army PR promotion where he could at least have the honest mutual care and concern of his war buddies. Perhaps he has learned from Sergeant Shroom, whom he truly loves and adores, that the true battle takes place, not on the battle field, but in that of the human heart. Perhaps he has learned amidst automatic gun fires, basookers and rocket-fires, the true meaning of that much abused tree word sentence, "I love you." which Sergeant Shroom always tell each one of his squad as he hugs him immediately before they start any risky operation and which after he died, was adopted by each member of the squad.