“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (2016)
Running Time: 113 minutes
Directed by: Ang Lee
Featuring: Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin and Chris Tucker
Billy: “It’s sort of weird, being honored for the worst day of your life.”
Ang Lee has had a most interesting career so far, his latest film “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (2016) is a welcome addition to his oeuvre as it does a few things the director is best known for, breaking new ground technologically while telling a very personal story about aspects of American life. In my opinion an outsider’s point of view can be more revealing than someone telling a story from within the eye of the storm. This is Lee’s first film since the incredible 3D spectacle “Life of Pi” (2012) for which he was awarded the Best Directing Oscar in 2012 – a worthy achievement and a bit of a make up award for him not winning in 2005 for “Brokeback Mountain” (2005).
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” revolves around the titular Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), a 19-year old Army specialist from Texas, is caught on camera dragging his wounded Sergeant Virgil “Shroom” Breem (Vin Diesel) to safety during an intense firefight in Iraq. This act of courage quickly ascends him and his unit, incorrectly designated “Bravo Squad” by the media, to celebrity status, beginning a weeks-long nationwide victory tour culminating in a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving home game halftime show.
The film is light on plot but has a narrative that sees the story take place over a few hours but cuts back and forth from the previous action in Iraq as well as Billy visiting home with his sister (Kristen Stewart) and the rest of his family. This makes the film intensely personal but also feels like a bit of a mess. We don’t really feel a kinship with Billy at all and I am not sure if this is because of Lee or the limited talent of the lead actor.
Lee does attempt to deal with larger ideas and themes and so we are witness to what was the public perception of the war in the Middle East, as well as post traumatic stress from many sides, loyalty what it means to be a man and a hero, the way in which people are perceived and the inherit greed that exists in the US.
Like all Ang Lee films he seems to attract some amazing actors who want to appear in any capacity, this film is no different, with Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin and Chris Tucker all making appearance in very different roles, that some are not known for. In fact the roles are so supporting that they may have been quite bland in lesser talents, so it is quite nice seeing these actors flitting in and out of the film.
The film itself used an unprecedented shooting and projection frame rate of 120 frames per second in 3D at 4K HD resolution. It is the first feature film ever to be shot in such a high frame rate, over twice the previous record (Peter Jackson’s 2012 “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, shot at 48 fps) and five times the standard speed of 24 fps. Lee undertook such a bold step after reading the book since he wanted the film to be an “immersive” and “realistic” experience of the reality and emotional journey of soldiers.
After working on “Life of Pi” (2012), Lee wanted to up his use of technology in filmmaking, especially in terms of frame rate, since he thought pursuing a higher frame would help him find answers. So while Lee did use this frame rate there is only one projector at the moment that can handle this film and that is in New York where the film premiered to one audience as part of a festival there.
The film does look good on Blu-ray but because the shot selection is directly tied in with the frame rate and how Lee wanted to present the film it does not feel natural, particularly when the characters are addressing the audience directly which happens a lot.
While I love most of Lee’s work this was a bit of a difficult watch and in the end is not as rewarding as I would have liked. This film is out now on DVD and Blu-ray and is worthy of a viewing but I would not purchase – I would not see any advantage in multiple viewings.