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‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’: An interesting movie that I should have loved

I caught up with this film the other day when I was in airplane mode.


I caught up with this film the other day when I was in airplane mode. I was pleased to get the chance, because I am a huge fan of Ang Lee — he’s my favorite contemporary director. Plus, the movie is about a subject dear to my heart: the Iraq war and its effect on America. I’d even read the novel, partly because I knew it was more about America than about the war.

So I should have loved this film. Instead, I was impressed by it but a bit disappointed. It is faithful to the book — but the book really is a meditation, almost a poem, about that moment in American culture in late 2004 when people began to realize that the Iraq war wasn’t going as well as advertised.

It also is, I think, about America’s real religion, the one thing for which people show a medieval public devotion: football. I was in Philadelphia recently when the NFL draft was being held and it felt like a religious festival in the Middle Ages. People didn’t just profess devotion, they showed it, they wore it, they talked it, they lived it.

Watching the film reminded me of when I gave a talk to some oilmen (and yes, they were all male) in Dallas in early 2007. Afterwards one of them came up to me and said, “You know, George is a hell of a nice fella, but president??? I don’t think he knows what he’s doing over there in Iraq.”

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at

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