Film review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Ang Lee’s ‘hyperreal’ vision of war
Shot almost five times faster than normal film and in high-definition 3D, this war story is a visual spectacle, but the screenplay feels stilted and contrived
Based on Ben Fountain’s 2012 novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk follows a group of Iraq war veterans who return to the US in 2004 for a brief victory tour, following an intense firefight for which they were awarded commendations. Framed over a single day, during which 19-year-old Specialist Billy Lynn and his unit are to appear during the half-time show at a football match, the film shows through flashbacks the incident in Iraq and their struggles to readjust to life back home.
Directed by two-time Academy Award best director winner Ang Lee ( Brokeback Mountain , Life of Pi ), the 3D film was shot at 120 frames per second, almost five times faster than a normal film, and in 4K resolution. Only five cinemas in the world – and none in Hong Kong – are equipped to show Billy Lynn at its full capacity; here, the film is screened in 10 cinemas at 2K resolution, 3D and 60 frames per second.
Even with this compromised version, the film looks crisper, brighter and more immediate than most audiences will be used to. Lee is clearly aiming to create a hyperrealistic environment comparable to the sensory overload experienced by these young soldiers returning from war, but it is difficult to focus on the story and engage emotionally when you’re persistently being reminded that you are watching a technical experiment.
Fountain’s novel was praised for its authenticity, but Jean-Christophe Castelli’s screenplay feels stilted and contrived, desperate to check off as many political points as possible, but without earning them dramatically. Newcomer Joe Alwyn (as Lynn) and the other members of Bravo Company strike up a genuine camaraderie, but the film’s supporting cast, which includes Kristen Stewart, Steve Martin and Vin Diesel, fails to bring weight to the proceedings.
There are moments of genuine interest, like Chris Tucker’s agent desperately hoping to negotiate a film deal for the boys before the day is out, or Billy’s fleeting romance with Makenzie Leigh’s starry-eyed cheerleader. But Lee simply hasn’t given himself enough time to explore any of the film’s themes in sufficient detail.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk opens on November 11
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