Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, C
Rated R, 110 minutes
"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" from acclaimed, Oscar-winning director Ang Lee of "The Life of Pi" and "Brokeback Mountain" fame has some compelling moments as it examines the perceptions and reality of war in the U.S., though it only skims the surface of many important issues; though well-acted, this "Walk" is not one to remember and is Lee's weakest film in years.
Nineteen-year-old private Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game of the Dallas Cowboys, what really happened to the squad is revealed, contrasting the realities of the war with America's perceptions.
Directed by Lee and written by Jean-Christophe Castelli, based on Ben Fountain's novel of the same name, "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" is an ambitious but flat drama with a few compelling moments with an extremely weird feel to it. That may be because Lee shot "Walk" in a high frame rate, the highest ever for a feature film and one requiring special projection and 3D to view it. Since only a handful of theaters (6) in the world can show the film in this manner, it will viewed by most audiences in 2D; though a technical achievement in some respects, the emotional connection Lee was hoping for with the high frame rate seems mostly a distraction, even in 2D.
Other than that, it's a serviceable drama with a few good performances and war scenes, all remembered in heavy flashback. As the troubled private with problems connecting with his family and the world back home, newcomer British actor Alwyn is solid as Lynn, and there are decent turns from Kristen Stewart as his outspoken sister, Vin Deisel as a lost comrade and Garrett Hedlund as his brash commander. Unfortunately miscast is Steve Martin as the Jerry Jones-style owner who is also a disrespectful tightwad (doesn't make the Cowboys organization look good, either), and comedian Chris Tucker as the Hollywood agent trying to get the men's story made into a movie; both lack a strong presence that the film sorely needs.
Commercialization of the military, brotherhood, PTSD, love and perceptions of the military are all issues touched upon, but Lee never really fully examines any of them with depth, and as a result, "Walk" feels really empty, lacking a strong, emotional core. Lee handles the war scenes well, but even those are so brief they don't have time to really resonate. "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" strives to really explore some pertinent issues, but it's mostly the CliffsNotes version. Lee is a terrific director, but this is a big disappointment.