Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ang Lee, 2016)
Ang Lee continues to be one of the most ambitious filmmakers today, though ambition does not always result in excellence. Jumping from genre to genre, he managed to produce two of the preeminent films of the 21st century in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, and “Brokeback Mountain”, though other extreme variations have not paid off as well, see 2003’s “Hulk”. Most recently he’s seemed to be most content by experimenting with new filming techniques. His last film “Life of Pi” was a marvel of visual effects, and his newest film “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” was shot in an unheard-of 120 frames per second. Unfortunately, this decision is not something that many theaters were able to implement including any by me, so this review will not take that decision into consideration as I was unable to see it that way.
Following the Bravo squad on their last stop of their countrywide celebratory tour, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” focuses on Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) who was both especially honored and affected by the harrowing battle they are being recognized for. While their other stops had been in front of relatively small crowds, this one had them in front of the nation while performing at the halftime show for the Dallas Cowboys. The entire squad takes this opportunity to attempt to process their new-found fame and the fact that they are destined to return to Iraq that evening.
Billy specifically is haunted by the events that transpired in Iraq; a fact which only his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) seems to understand. She arranges for him to defer his redeployment and check into a hospital for post-traumatic stress disorder if he chooses. Confronted with decision between protecting himself and serving the nation/ saving face, Billy struggles throughout the entirety of the football game, unable to focus on his responsibilities.
In what has become an unfortunate recurring theme this year, Kristen Stewart is once again the lone shining point in an otherwise poor film. “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” even tries to fail on that front as Stewarts presence is sorely underrepresented often being relegated to cellphone voicemails. The acting of the entire Bravo squad is unbearably stilled, and Steve Martin painfully struggles to find any resemblance of the tone of the rest of the film in his supporting role. Makenzie Leigh’s performance as the cheerleader love interest Faison is poorly written to the extent of being insulting. The overall writing and acting performances completely fail to deliver on the promising and important topic of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Having Kathryn and Faison be the only two female characters of note in the film is troubling. Despite Stewart’s best attempts at salvaging Kathryn and making her sympathetic, her attempts fail to follow the story that Lee wants and thus she is portrayed only as the nagging troublemaker. In contrast, the mindless Faison strokes the male ego by being a fantasy who is willing to fawn over Billy’s dedication to country and ability to overcome, read ignore, his personal feelings. Instead of challenging the masculine dream of fighting for the beautiful damsel, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” reinforces it, while teaching men to continue to ignoring any hesitance as weakness.
Maybe the visual spectacle of seeing the film, especially the halftime show itself, in 120 frames per second would be the saving grace of the film, but if it’s not readily accessible, it can’t be judged on those merits. As it is, the visuals were solid, and the transitions occasionally flirted with impressive, but they fail to act as a redeeming factor to a poorly written and acted piece of male machismo.