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Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Released 10 February 2017
Director Ang Lee

Joe Alwyn, Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedund, Chris Tucker, Steve Martin
Writer(s) Jean-Christophe Castelli

Simon Cornwell, Stephen Cornwell, Ang Lee, Marc Platt
Origin United States, United Kingdom, China
Running Time 113 minutes
Genre Drama, war
Rating 15A

Walking wounded.

The strangeness of Ang Lee’s latest film extends to more than its unwieldy title. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (a name that for the life of me I just can’t keep in my head) is an odd little movie that doesn’t seem to know what it is trying to say.

Based on a novel by Ben Fountain, the film follows the eponymous soldier (played by Joe Alwyn) over the course of a day on which he is forced to make some tough decisions. During his first tour in Iraq, nineteen year old Billy became a sensation after video footage emerged of him bravely attempting to save the life of his commanding officer during a firefight. Shipped home along with the rest of his company, Billy is thrown into the limelight of a press tour of America, culminating in the half time Superbowl performance where he and his colleagues end up on stage with Destiny’s Child. Meanwhile, Billy’s sister (Kristen Stewart) is desperate for him to stay at home rather than return to Iraq. As he attempts to make this decision, we see flashbacks to his time in the military.

This is a scenario that is ripe with potential for intelligent satire but despite good performances from the cast, the film is hamstrung by a clunky and confused script that can’t seem to decide whether it is for or against the war it is portraying. Though the script pays lip-service to things like post-traumatic stress and the downfalls of US foreign policy, it ultimately lands on the trite conclusion that regardless of the legality of the war, it still has the power to turn a group of men into family. A topic that is complicated in the extreme is tied up in a neat, unsatisfying bow.

Further to the problems of the script are those which are technical in nature. Ang Lee is known for his lush visual style and can be forgiven for experimenting with new techniques but his decision to shoot in hyper-clear 120 frames per second is deeply distracting. The effect is somehow uncinematic and only served to take me out of the action, rather than drawing me in. This is also true of the framing used throughout the film where characters talk directly into camera – being gazed at solemnly in high-definition by Vin Diesel (who plays Billy’s commanding officer) is not something I want to repeat anytime soon.

In Lee’s illustrious career, Billy Lynn will be thought of as an odd little detour, or failed experiment. This is a film where neither the technology nor the narrative have been successfully realised.

- Linda O’Brien