Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk review: Ang Lee goes all-in and take a huge gamble on this commanding, inventive and brave piece of modern filmmaking.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk review, Paul Heath, February 2017.
It’s an understatement to say that Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk failed to ignite the box-office Stateside when it was released last year. A lot of that could have something to do with the timing, its anti-war message, or maybe director Ang Lee’s format of choice – the mind-bending 3D at 120 frames per second. More on that in a second.
Lee’s first film since the Oscar-winning Life Of Pi revolves around a day in the life of Billy Lynn and his fellow soldiers of Bravo Squad as they attend a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game after returning home from a tour of duty during the Iraq War. Lynn, played by able newcomer Joe Alwyn, has achieved celebrity status following a heroic act of bravery that was captured on camera. He is, along with the rest of his squad, guest of honour at the game and, along with Garrett Hedlund‘s Sgt. David Dime, is due to lead out his peers on stage during the halftime show (with Destiny’s Child no less). Along for the ride is their newly appointed agent, Chris Tucker in his first role in four years, who is absolutely intent on selling the film rights to their story before they head back to the Middle East the following day. On the sidelines is Lynn’s sister, an excellent Kirsten Stewart, who desperately wants him to stay home and away from the front line.
The film features excellent support from the likes of Steve Martin who plays Norm Oglesby, owner of the Dallas football team, Tim Blake Nelson as Wayne Foster and one Vin Diesel as Shroom, a fallen hero from the war. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is told largely via retrospect, the title character battling flashbacks throughout the demanding day, questioning his bravery, those around him, and his want to return to the war zone.
I must add that Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk will largely be screened in the standard format when it it released nationwide, but we were lucky to see it projected in almost intended format – at roughly 65 frames per second in 3D. If you’re able to catch it in this format, do. According to Lee himself, there are no screens in the UK which can handle the 120 fps original format, and 65 fps is as close as you’ll come – at least over here. I must admit that I struggled with this new format at first, but then I was immersed in the narrative and the sensory element to the piece only added to the experience. Lee chooses to use extreme close-ups in places, massively over-lighting his actors and backgrounds to come with the high frame-rate. His use of perspective throughout is done to perfection and during its Iraq sequences, which are constantly referred to and visible right up until the emotional ending, the higher frame rate only enhances the realism – almost to the point of you looking away from the screen as one of the film’s most pivotal moments plays out.
This one will split audiences – I have no doubt – but make no mistake, this is phenomenal, brave filmmaking from visionary Ang Lee. Now matter where you stand on its political angle, you can’t disagree with that statement. It is almost theatrical in its approach, the actors each given the space and opportunity to tackle the material with extended takes with tons of room to develop their characters. Each and every one gives it their all, but particular nods should be given to Alwyn and particularly Garrett Hedlund, who gives a career-best performance.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is bold, engrossing, compelling and profoundly moving. The visuals take a while to adjust to, but this groundbreaking piece of cinema must be seen in the way in which it was intended. Immersive, vividly real and masterfully told. A must.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk review by Paul Heath, February 2017.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is released on Friday 10th February 2017.