Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn is a noble gesture to war veterans but a film making experiment gone wrong.

Whether emotionally engaging or visually stunning, director Ang Lee can tell a story. We have seen this in Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi, both stellar narratives that won Lee Academy Awards in Directing. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a different story altogether but it isn’t going to win him any critical acclaim. Coming off the back of the incredibly immersive visuals in Life of Pi, one would expect Lee’s latest project to have some semblance to his renown. Instead, Billy Lynn feels like an experiment gone terribly wrong. Worse, nothing about the film feels like an Ang Lee movie.

The story is about Billy Lynn (Newcomer Joe Alwyn) a 19-year-old American soldier returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. Billy is made a national hero after a video of him rescuing a comrade (Vin Diesel) goes viral. His squad is then sent around the country on a promotional tour which peaks during the halftime show at the Dallas Cowboys stadium. There’s a lot of pomp and celebration, girls fall at their feet, Hollywood wants to make a movie out of it, et al; but through all the glitz and glam, Billy is struggling to play along and we see this through a series of flashbacks that takes him and us back to that fateful day in Iraq.

Adapted from a 2012 novel of the same name, the story is a satirical take on how the public perceives a soldier. The satire lies in the fact that war veterans are often venerated by those who have never experienced the horrors of war. Supporting this analogy are roles from comedians Chris Tucker as a talent scout, and Steve Martin as a dubious business tycoon whose inclusion adds little humour, but soon wears thin when scripting issues start to surface. Also included is an awkward subplot about the relationship between Billy and his sister (Kristen Stewart) and it just feels a bit creepy. There are other instances that feel thrown in as fillers, sometimes like skits that have no connection to the main story.  Even so, the lack of cohesion isn’t the biggest problem with this film.

That Lee shot this film at 120 frames per second is a questionable decision both technically and narratively (Life of Pi was shot at a traditional 24 FPS and still blew us away). The result is a blundering disparity between the story and what we see on screen. Unless this film is seen in 4K projection most viewers won’t notice the difference, not even Lee’s subtle commentary that a boy who has barely outgrown his acne is ready to die for his country. It’s a noble theme with couple of good points to ponder over and Lee seems to have his heart in the right place. It’s just too bad that the narrative feels disjointed with absurd interjections. In the end, Billy Lynn isn’t a bad film. It’s just unnecessary and sometimes even irrelevant, but most of all a technological dud from a contemporary great such as Lee.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.