Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Review #1,370

Director:  Lee Ang
Cast:   Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker, Vin Diesel
Plot:  19-year-old Billy Lynn is brought home for a victory tour after a harrowing Iraq battle.  Through flashbacks the film shows what really happened to his squad - contrasting the realities of war with America's perceptions.

Genre:  Drama / War
Awards:  -
Runtime:  110min
Rating:  M18 for language throughout, some war violence, sexual content, and brief drug use.
Distributor:  Sony Pictures

“Your story Billy, no longer belongs to you.  It's America story now.”

Meant to be a showcase of the technological breakthrough that is the 120 frames-per-second 3D projection for both eyes, Lee Ang's latest work may have been gimmicky and distracting to some audiences, though others have proclaimed it to be a bold step forward for cinema. 

The film has largely received average reviews, with many critics lamenting its paper-thin characters and weak script, but a little bit more digging may reveal if these critics saw it in high frame rate or normal 3D, or standard 2D.  I caught it in no-frills 2D, and I think I saw a different movie.  It is a pretty decent film, highly refreshing in its treatment of war, psychology and spectacle, and certainly an experience that works the senses.   

Billy Lynn, played by newcomer Joe Alwyn in an assured performance, is a war hero after preventing the capture of his sergeant by insurgents in the heat of the battlefield.  The act was captured on camera, and later, reported in the news, bringing the realities of the Iraq war closer to the American public. 

Back temporarily in the States, his ‘Bravo’ comrades and himself are honoured and made to perform as extras in Destiny Child’s halftime gig at the Super Bowl.  The ignominy of being part of a rapturous celebration, and especially for Billy, who is still haunted by the trauma of war, opens a psychological wound to which Lee tries to express cinematically. 

Featuring some of the most stunning sound work this year, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk has two big set-pieces designed to be spectacular—the aforementioned Super Bowl performance and the skirmish in Iraq.  Lee uses sounds and ample flashbacks to bring this psychological wound to life, often intercutting scenes of the Super Bowl with Iraq.  While this can be disorienting and such a technique does add some clunkiness to the storytelling, the film comes across as unusually stimulating as it tackles the essence of a character study without resorting to tried-and-tested conventions. 

The title of the movie not only refers to Billy’s Super Bowl walk, but more tellingly, of his contemplation and ambivalence toward wanting to trust his sister (Kristen Stewart), his emotional support at home who insists on him getting a honourable discharge from the army, or his ‘brothers’ whom he has grown to love.  The whole film essentially tries to grasp his conflicted psyche, presented by Lee as a confluence of the inwardly hallucinatory and the outwardly sensorial. 

Not quite one of the director’s most accomplished or coherent works, but Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is not the major blip that most critics have made it out to be.  It’s in my books a consistent follow-up to Life of Pi (2012), but go judge it for yourself.

Verdict:  Not quite one of Lee Ang's most accomplished or coherent works, but it is certainly refreshing in its treatment of war, psychology and spectacle.  


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