'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk': Engaging But Not Exceptional
Film: "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"; Director: Ang Lee; Cast: Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, Makenzie Leigh, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Brain "Astro" Bradley, Arturo Castro, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Barney Harris, Beau Knapp, Mason Lee, Ben Platt, Bruce Mckinnon, Deirdre Lovejoy, Laura Wheele and Tim Blake Nelson; Rating: ***
Director Ang Lee's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" is an adaptation of author Ben Fountain's 2012 released satirical novel of the same name.
The film is an emotional expose about the homecoming of the tough, but wounded American soldiers returning from combat, to be celebrated at home by people who can never fully appreciate their sacrifice.
The film focuses on Billy Lynn and his fellow surviving Bravo Squad soldiers.
Set in the backdrop of a football game during the Thanksgiving celebrations in Dallas, Texas in 2004, the story is about how the simple homecoming of Billy and his colleagues is turned into a media blitz, where the soldiers are paraded as patriotic mascots during the halftime show of the game. This forms the crux of the film.
Inter-cutting with flashbacks through the celebrations, we are informed that Billy is decorated for his up-and-close combat with the enemy on the Iraqi battlefield where he lugged his mortally wounded battlefield mentor, Sargeant Shroom, off the battlefield during the cross-fire.
Though physically present during the celebrations, which include a press conference and centre stage performance of Destiny's Child at the stadium, Billy's PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) surfaces.
Newcomer Joe Alwyn as Billy is earnest. He inhabits his role so vulnerably that you feel for him, when he mutters rhetorically, "Being honoured for the worst day of your life".
He is surrounded by an impressive supporting cast, including Kristen Stewart as his guilt-ridden, protective sister, Kathryn, who is keen to stop her brother from going back to Iraq; Chris Tucker as Albert the Hollywood producer determined to get a movie deal for the Bravo team; Steve Martin as Norm Oglesby - the opportunistic businessman and football owner, who wants to exploit the Bravo team; Garrett Hedlund as Dime - Billy's uncompromising commanding officer; Makenzie Leigh as Faison - the cheerleader and Billy's love interest; and lastly, Vin Diesel as Shroom, the Krishna-loving Bravo sergeant whose death haunts Billy.
Jean Christophe Castelli's screenplay is sensitively taut but it does get clunky and boring with repetitive flashbacks of the same scenes. The dialogues are mundane and un-impactful. While the satire is the spine of the narrative, the conflict between the stagehands and the soldiers or with the spectator who passes a snide remark, surfaces as staged or manipulated.
The seamless transitions of the scenes by editor Tim Squyres are worth a mention.
Technically, over the years, films are shot and presented at about 24 frames per second. This one comes with 120 fps shot on 4k resolution 3D cameras. And honestly, with cinemas ill-equipped to handle this output, the resultant technical innovation is lost in transmission.
Overall, the film competes with other war movies and thus offers nothing exceptional in terms of an emotional graph or drama. Nevertheless, it is engaging.