War movies are an enduring staple in Hollywood, from 1927’s World War I epic Wings to Mel Gibson’s recent World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge, which opened in theaters this month. One conflict that the industry has been uncertain how to address, though, is the Iraq War, which commenced in 2003 and officially ended five years ago. For every film like The Hurt Locker or American Sniper that became either an awards-season or box office favorite, there are titles like Stop-Loss, Green Zone, and Grace Is Gone, which largely failed to move hearts, minds, or wallets.
Despite this spotty track record, Ang Lee, for one, feels that the subject of the Iraq War is “timeless.” That was one of his motivating reasons for adapting Ben Fountain’s acclaimed novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, about a soldier (played by newcomer Joe Alwyn) who experiences a brief, troubled homecoming after an act of battlefield valor. “It’s a messy situation and always a good ground to examine society,” the Oscar-winning director tells Yahoo Movies. “I hope we can learn from our mistakes and understand humanity, particularly those serving soldiers.” (Watch our interview above.)
And the psychology of veterans is central to the film’s emotional impact, more so than any bigger comment about the still-controversial Iraq War. “I don’t feel this is a political statement,” emphasizes Steve Martin, who plays the jingoistic owner of a football franchise. “[Ang] really [tries] to get inside the soldiers’ head. America cares about its soldiers, and that’s why this is an important movie.”