I’m thinking that Oscar winning director Ang Lee sees himself as “that guy.” Meaning, I believe he fancies himself as some kind of pioneer; a filmmaker who is not afraid to venture into uncharted territory and deliver something different for audiences to witness.
After all, he is the guy who gave us Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi and now he is off once again in uncharted territory with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, based on Ben Fountain’s respected novel about a 19-year-old army specialist who is whisked away from the madness in the Middle East for a two week tour at home, to be wrapped up with an appearance during a Thanksgiving football halftime show, to honor the heroism of Lynn’s Bravo unit.
What makes Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk so special? Well, this is the first film to be caught on camera using an 120 frame rate along with 4K rendering and mastering and it was filmed in 3D. I believe the idea was to create an experience that was as close to watching something as real-life as possible and in that, the film is definitely something you haven’t seen before.
For me, this was certainly a challenge to look at. Probably because there was only one movie theater in the entire New York area capable of screening the picture but I will not deny Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk‘s appeal as a genuine spectacle. It’s appeal as a film though is where it falls short because as I was enamored by the bells and whistles of its visual prowess, I was trying to decipher its purpose and its plot.
Maybe because it was trying to cover so many settings in such a cramped amount of time; Bravo unit is in combat in Iraq one minute, the next Specialist Lynn is at home with his family, the next he’s watching the game, the next he’s enjoying his chemical love affair with Faison the cheerleader, this film feels like it likes to jump from moment to moment while distracting you with its unprecedented technical flare and it is difficult to understand the message, it’s trying to sell.
I did like the acting. I felt that Joe Alwyn in his feature film debut gave an honest effort to this truly haunted and conflicted soul and the supporting performances of Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart and Vin Diesel were very solid. The rest of the supporting cast Arturo Castro, Mason Lee, Chris Tucker, Steve Martin, Beau Knapp, Astro Bradley, Mackenzie Leigh, Tim Blake Nelson were fine and it was a surprise seeing cameos from NFL stars J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman and American Idol contestant/country star Kellie Pickler.
Jean-Christophe Castelli’s screenplay is easy to follow along but I feel that its the story that is the biggest casualty of this picture because the highlight is assuredly the camerawork and the visuals more than anything else; how this movie is shot more than what or who and the why is left practically vague.
John Toll will definitely have his moment in the sun in the next few months for his cinematography and Tim Squyres’ editing is excellent, particularly in the actual halftime show sequences. Mark Friedberg’s production design, the score of Michael and Jeff Danna and the art direction is all visually striking.
Is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk worth seeing? Difficult to say and I’m probably the last person you would want to answer that because most of Ang Lee’s work flies right over my head but if you enjoy his work and have the opportunity to see it, power to you.
If I could describe Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, it would be as an experiment that is a partial success as a precursor to something greater later, rather than an instant success. Maybe this could change the way movies are shot but right now, I doubt that this will be a game-changer anytime soon.