There's a lot going on in Ang Lee's latest cinematic venture, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: tense combat and traumatizing flashbacks, family disputes and budding romance, Vin Diesel and the Iraq war, a media frenzy, a Thanksgiving soccer match, and an attempt to revolutionize cinema. Filmed at 120 frames per second — four times the frame rate of a normal movie — the hyper-realistic visuals are intended become a literal window to the soul of a returning American soldier suffering from PTSD.
The movie marks a long-awaited return for Oscar winning #AngLee, the director who blew us away with Life of Pi back in 2012 — a movie so dazzling its 3D visuals were on par with its sentimentality. Beautiful, emotional stories is an arena in which Lee usually excels — this is the director behind Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, after all. However, the additional visual clarity of #BillyLynn does not do anything to highlight emotion within the story. In fact, it's distracting, removing and makes you question whether there is actually any emotion to highlight at all.
Quadrupling the standard frame rate, which gives each shot a glossy HD feel — the kind you'd get while watching Planet Earth on a super swanky, brand-spanking-new 3D TV — spotlights, blemishes and adds an extra coating of clarity. It's also an odd choice for a sensational war drama set predominately within a football stadium.
The story follows Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), a young American soldier who's being pushed around the US on a promotional tour after returning from Iraq a national hero. Though he tries to ignore the flashbacks that continue to seep into his consciousness, they accumulate into a traumatic crescendo as he and his squadron are forced to take to the stage during a halftime performance at a Thanksgiving football match. However, while the subject of PTSD has potential for jumbo packing the feels and highlighting a real, often skimmed issue, Billy Lynn spends more time concentrating on the visuals and thus sponges down the potential for any emotive affect.
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In fact, when you scrape away the squad banter, love interest and shallow social commentary, what you're left with not only is another movie about the Iraq war from the perspective of an American soldier — god forbid a film told from an Iraqi's point of view would do well at the box office — but one that fails to deliver any real impact or character attachment. With the exceptions of Kristen Stewart and Joe Alwyn, who gives off a Matt Damon Good Will Hunting vibe, the characters here are throwaway, or if you're Steve Martin, Vin Diesel, or the three ladies impersonating Destiny's Child (yep, that happens), detracting, and distracting.
So while Ang Lee's technical ambition here is entirely evident, and the visuals somewhat impressive, they're not enough to help Billy Lynn find his footing — in fact, they just make everything wrong with the movie far more noticeable.
What did you think of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk?