Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Arturo Castro, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Kristin Stewart and Chris Tucker
Release Date: Out Now
Based on the novel of the same name, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk charts the story of the title character and his Bravo squadron’s return from a tour of war torn Iraq in 2004.
Footage has emerged in the American media of Lynn’s heroic rescue attempt of his squadron leader and various corporate interests all want a piece of this jingoistic pie. The plot primarily revolves around bravo squadrons appearance at the half time NFL show with none other than Destiny’s Child, (well at least that’s what the back of some unconvincing extras are supposed to simulate).
Events here are punctuated by flashbacks of Lynn’s decision to enlist in the military and experiences in Iraq, culminating in the battle which has made him a hero at home.
The American-as-apple-pie imagery of the Lynn homestead makes the work of Norman Rockwell look like gritty, social commentary in comparison. Lee lays it on so thick that one wonders if he is possibly lampooning this oft used Hollywood war movie trope.
Steve Martin plays media magnate Norm Oglesby, who wants to bring their story to the screen stating “I don’t think the studio folk have the moral fortitude to grasp bravo’s story.” This is one of many moments in the film where the fourth wall threatens to be breached and perhaps would have functioned more effectively as an actual, Frank Underwood-style aside instead.
In true post-modern fashion, the agent representing Bravo squadron (played with untypical restraint by Chris Tucker) also comments on Lynn’s rescue as a “real move moment” and the political economy of getting a film made: “I’ll go to China if I have to.”
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is in fact a co-production involving China’s Bona Film Group and Studio 8, which is backed by the Chinese conglomerate Fosun International.
“I don’t want to make a good movie, I want to make a great movie.” claims Oglseby and one wonders if he would have done a better job than Ang Lee did.
The main problem with the film, and perhaps why it performed so dismally at the US box office, is it does not deliver a cutting satire of corporate America and the glamorisation of war, nor does it present enough of the battle scenes which dominate the trailer. Instead, audiences get a fractional commitment to both and as a result, the plot feels uneven and disjointed.
Lee chose to shoot the film at an ultra-high frame rate of 120 frames per second but only a handful of cinema projectors in the world can reproduce that technology. Unfortunately the Dublin cinema I viewed the film in was not one of these.
There are more facial close ups here than Sergio Leone at his most self-indulgent and perhaps these look amazingly life-like with the correct technology. On standard projection, one presumes that much of this detail is lost, thus negating Lee’s artistic flourishes to pointlessness for the majority of audiences.
Many of the scenes are reminiscent of a first person shooter computer game, where a talking head needlessly natters at you as you frantically bash the skip forward button.
If this was Lees desired effect then he succeeds but I found it generally removed me from the drama, instead of the “immersive digital experience” the studio synopsis claims it to be. Vin “XXX” Diesel as the Dalia Lama figure of the piece is laughable to the point of parody, as he drops pearls of eastern philosophy at every opportunity. Apart from Lynn, he is the main protagonist that ties us to past events in Iraq, so to have such a totemic character so woefully miscast really prevents the story from ever gaining any credibility.
One constantly expects the film to kick up a gear after some wearisome extended dialogue scenes. It never does, and much of the characterisation seems completely superfluous. Lynn’s sister, Kathryn (Stewart) seems to be the closest living relationship he has in the film but she generally re appears and disappears randomly and without any continuity to the story.
The love interest of Lynn, Faison, seems to function only as eye candy and she probably receives far more screen time than her character deserved.
The anti-war subject matter marks a noble departure from the usual Hollywood/Military flag waving but it falls far short of delivering any meaningful critique, or even check-your-brain-at-the-door action. Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers deals with similar themes of when war heroics meet commercialism, but far more gracefully and definitively.
Similar to Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk flop, this film is also marketed as one conventional example of a genre, but instead results in a muddled, confused narrative.
Released at a time when Mel Gibson’s Hackshaw Ridge satisfies even the thirstiest of blood lusts, it’s hard to see how Billy Lynn will compete in such a marketplace.
Written by Cian O’ Donnell