Kristen Stewart to join ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ movie
After putting away her Bella Swan wig and red (formerly brown) contact lenses, Kristen Stewart has been making a number of interesting career choices. Here are three examples:
- Stewart was a U.S. soldier who befriends an inmate (Peyman Moaadi) at the American Gulag, Guantanamo, in Peter Sattler’s little-seen (at least in theaters) Camp X-Ray.
- She was one of Best Actress Oscar winner Julianne Moore’s daughters in Wash Westmoreland and the recently deceased Richard Glatzer’s Alzheimer’s drama Still Alice.
- She was the personal assistant to troubled, aging actress Juliette Binoche in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, which earned her a history-making Best Supporting Actress César. (Stewart became the first American actress to take home the French Academy Award.)
A couple of days ago, it was announced that Kristen Stewart is to join newcomer Joe Alwyn, her On the Road co-star Garrett Hedlund, and veteran Steve Martin in Ang Lee’s film version of Ben Fountain’s bestselling satirical novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
According to TheWrap, Stewart, who turns 25 on April 9, ’15, is to play 19-year-old Billy Lynn’s older sister Kathryn.
So far it’s unclear how many reported Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk cast members have actually signed on the dotted line. But if they haven’t already, they should be doing so shortly as production is slated to begin later this month (April 2015) in Atlanta.
‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ summary
In Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a small group of survivors of the fierce (and fictional) Battle of Al-Ansakar Canal are brought from Iraq to the United States for a two-week “Victory Tour,” courtesy of the George W. Bush administration – eager to milk every bit of flag-waving propaganda it can.
Known as the “Bravo Squad,” the group is immodestly described by their own sergeant as “the most murdering bunch of psychopaths you’ll ever see.” Among them is uncultured (but shrewd), thick-accented Texan infantryman Billy Lynn – at 19 too young to drink alcohol at home, but old enough to blow people up overseas.
Fox News watchers – a video of the Battle of Al-Ansakar Canal is a hit on that cable circus show – and countless other American civilians enthusiastically embrace the hype enveloping Billy and his fellow War Heroes. It goes without saying that the characters of the U.S. combatants turn out to be less pristine than both the U.S. government and the U.S. media would have the eagerly gullible U.S. public believe.
The Victory Tour reaches its climax on the All-American Thanksgiving Day holiday, at the All-American Dallas Cowboys stadium, shortly after which the All-American Heroes, no longer of use to either their government or the media (or the patriotic crowds), are to be summarily sent back to Iraq and battlefield anonymity.
Kathryn has a supporting role in the novel, sharing some quality time with her baby brother Billy, who happens to be a virgin. At one point, she’s very close to him (and to his raging hormones), wearing a bikini and “a small gold cross [lying] on the swell of one of her breasts, a tiny mountaineer going for the top.”
The ‘Catch-22’ of the Iraq War?
The San Francisco Chronicle, for one, praised Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk as “Pulitzer Prize-quality good … A bracing, fearless and uproarious satire of how contemporary war is waged and sold to the American public.”
The book has also been called “the Catch-22 for the Iraq war.” Could be. Although some reviewers have remarked that Fountain’s satire is less cutting than Joseph Heller’s, both books have elements in common.
And as explained in the New York Times, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk even offers its own version of Heller’s paradox: “investors won’t commit to a film of Bravo’s exploits until a star comes on board, and no star will commit until investors do.”
‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ movie: Different from other Hollywood Iraq War fare
Ben Fountain’s novel has been adapted to the big screen by Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Jean-Christophe Castelli. The latter had previously collaborated on a trio of Ang Lee movies: Sense and Sensibility (as co-producer James Schamus’ assistant), The Ice Storm (as a “researcher”), and Life of Pi (as an associate producer).
Worth noting is that Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk should be quite different from most other Hollywood movies dealing with the U.S. involvement in Iraq – e.g., Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper in the title role; Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Picture Oscar winner The Hurt Locker. Both of these were heavy dramas and neither of them took a direct critical view of either the war itself or American war culture as a whole.
The ‘MASH’ of the homefront?
Now, it remains to be seen whether the movie version of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk will be, as so often happens, bowdlerized, sanitized, idiotized for mainstream consumption. Or if director Ang Lee and screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Jean-Christophe Castelli (and their backers) will adhere to the novel’s subversive tone.
In case they do, we might theoretically get the homefront version of MASH, which, written by former blacklisted screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. (from Richard Hooker’s novel) and directed by maverick filmmaker Robert Altman, turned out to be not only an enthusiastically received take-no-prisoners satire of the U.S. military – and of the military establishment in general, no matter where or when – but also a mammoth blockbuster.
Now, watching Hollywood movies about the Iraq War – and that would undoubtedly include Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – you’d think that Americans sent to that country were the only ones affected by the carnage. If only some daring filmmaker were to tackle the Iraq War and its disastrous aftermath as experienced by the local citizenry.
But if the myriad movies about past American wars are any evidence, that’s not about to happen. Who would give a damn?
‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ cast
As found on the IMDb, besides Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund (Inside Llewyn Davis, TRON: Legacy), and The Pink Panther star Steve Martin, the Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk cast includes the following:
Ben Platt. Beau Knapp. Bruce McKinnon. Randy Gonzalez. Bo Mitchell. Ric Reitz. Barney Harris. Allen Daniel.
As per Variety, Sony Pictures will handle the worldwide distribution of the film except in China, where it will be released by Bona Film Group.
Although the IMDb lists Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk as an American production, it’s actually an international one, also including Chinese (Bona Film) and British companies (Film4, The Ink Factory).
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is to be shot in High Frame Rate 3D. I believe that should mark Kristen Stewart’s movie debut in the 3D format. (Ang Lee’s Life of Pi was filmed in “regular” 3D. Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey introduced HFR 3D.)
The Vivien Leigh of the Iraq War?
 If the British Vivien Leigh managed to play the Georgian Scarlett O’Hara in the Civil War drama Gone with the Wind, then at least in theory the British Joe Alwyn (any relation to Odd Man Out and The Fallen Idol composer William Alwyn?) should manage to play the Texan Iraq War veteran in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
Satirical anti-war/anti-military movies
 Other movie satires focusing on the U.S. military include:
- Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964), with Sterling Hayden’s Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper as the epitome of military madness (once again, no matter the country).
- Preston Sturges’ Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), in which mild-mannered Eddie Bracken finds himself receiving a World War II hero’s welcome – even though he had been discharged from service due to hay fever and without having seen any, in Billy Lynn’s words, “exploding soup-stews of shattered chests.”
- Mike Nichols’ ambitious but disappointing Catch-22 (1970), the “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk of World War II,” featuring an all-star cast that included Alan Arkin, Jon Voight, Paula Prentiss, Richard Benjamin, Martin Sheen, Anthony Perkins, Art Garfunkel, and Orson Welles.
- David O. Russell’s John Ridley-written Three Kings (1999), starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube, and set at the time of Iraq War I a.k.a. The Gulf War.
Sturges’ film, by the way, has several elements in common with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. And so does Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (1941), with Gary Cooper as the John Doe exploited by the media and the powers-that-be while eagerly embraced by the ever idiotic masses.
From ‘Hair’ and ‘Johnny Got His Gun’ to ‘Mister Roberts’
Milos Forman’s Hair (1979), based on the ’60s hit Broadway musical, skirted outright satire. Yet it’s surely one of the most subversive movies ever made about the United States’ war culture.
The same goes for Johnny Got His Gun (1971), a must-see drama directed by former blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Roman Holiday, Spartacus). Timothy Bottoms stars as a soldier with no face and no limbs, but with, much to his despair, a functioning brain.
Now, some refer to Mervyn LeRoy and John Ford’s blockbuster Mister Roberts (1955)*, starring Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, and Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Jack Lemmon, as a World War II satire. In fact, the Best Picture Oscar nominee is more like a(n unfunny) big-screen sitcom.
* Not much fun behind the scenes either, as star-producer Henry Fonda fired John Ford from the project. An uncredited Joshua Logan, who had directed the Broadway production of Mister Roberts, reportedly reshot much of the film.
Kristen Stewart movies
Besides the titles mentioned elsewhere in this article, previous Kristen Stewart movies include:
- On the Road (2012).
Director: Walter Salles.
Cast: Garrett Hedlund. Sam Riley. Kirsten Dunst. Amy Adams. Viggo Mortensen. Tom Sturridge. Elisabeth Moss. Alice Braga.
- Into the Wild (2007).
Director: Sean Penn.
Cast: Emile Hirsch. Hal Holbrook. Catherine Keener. Marcia Gay Harden. Vince Vaughn. William Hurt. Jena Malone. Zach Galifianakis.
- Undertow (2004).
Director: David Gordon Green.
Cast: Jamie Bell. Josh Lucas.
- Panic Room (2002).
Director: David Fincher.
Cast: Jodie Foster. Forest Whitaker.
In addition to Stewart’s Twilight Saga movies:
- Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight (2008).
- Chris Weitz’s New Moon (2009).
- David Slade’s Eclipse (2010).
- Bill Condon’s Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (2011) and Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012).
Peter Facinelli. Elizabeth Reaser. Dakota Fanning. Michael Sheen. Kellan Lutz. Jackson Rathbone. Ashley Greene. Billy Burke. Nikki Reed. Xavier Samuel. Booboo Stewart. Catalina Sandino Moreno. Rachelle Lefevre. Cam Gigandet. Bryce Dallas Howard.
Upcoming Kristen Stewart movies:
- Nima Nourizadeh’s action-comedy American Ultra.
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg. Walton Goggins. Connie Britton. Topher Grace. John Leguizamo. Bill Pullman.
- Drake Doremus’ sci-fier Equals.
Cast: Nicholas Hoult. Guy Pearce. Claudia Kim. Kate Lyn Sheil. Jacki Weaver.
- Tim Blake Nelson’s ensemble piece Anesthesia.
Cast: Corey Stoll. Gretchen Mol. Tim Blake Nelson. Gloria Reuben. 1984 Best Actor Academy Award nominee Sam Waterston (The Killing Fields). Six-time Academy Award nominee Glenn Close (The World According to Garp, The Big Chill, The Natural, Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, Albert Nobbs).
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the third Kristen Stewart (prospective) cast announcement that I’ve seen this year. The previous two:
- “Kristen Stewart Joins Kelly Reichardt Movie Project,” also to feature Laura Dern and Michelle Williams.
- “Kristen Stewart Joins Woody Allen Film Project,” also to feature Jesse Eisenberg and Bruce Willis.
See also: “Kristen Stewart History-Making César Nomination.”
Ang Lee movies
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk director Ang Lee is a two-time Oscar winner. His movie credits include:
- Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee The Wedding Banquet (1993).
Cast: Winston Chao. Mitchell Lichtenstein. May Chin. Sihung Lung. Ah-Leh Gua.
- Eat Drink Man Woman (1994).
Cast: Sihung Lung. Ah-Leh Gua. Winston Chao. Sylvia Chang.
- Sense and Sensibility (1995).
Cast: Emma Thompson. Hugh Grant. Kate Winslet. Alan Rickman. Greg Wise.
- The Ice Storm (1997).
Cast: Kevin Kline. Sigourney Weaver. Joan Allen. Henry Czerny. Tobey Maguire. Christina Ricci. Elijah Wood.
- Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000).
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat. Michelle Yeoh. Zhang Ziyi.
- Hulk (2003).
Cast: Eric Bana. Jennifer Connelly. Sam Elliott. Josh Lucas. Nick Nolte.
- Brokeback Mountain (2005).
Cast: Heath Ledger. Jake Gyllenhaal. Michelle Williams. Anne Hathaway. Randy Quaid.
- Lust, Caution (2007).
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. Tang Wei. Joan Chen.
- Life of Pi (2012).
Cast: Suraj Sharma. Irrfan Khan. Gérard Depardieu.
Ang Lee won Academy Awards for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi. (Curiously neither film won the Best Picture Oscar, losing out to, respectively, Paul Haggis’ Crash and Ben Affleck’s Argo.)
Lee also took home Directors Guild Awards for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain.
Both Brokeback Mountain and Lust, Caution won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Image of prospective Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk actress Kristen Stewart in her recent military-themed movie Camp X-Ray: IFC Films.
Image of Ang Lee discussing Life of Pi: AMC Theaters.