Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
With US intervention in the Middle East entering a volatile new phase under the belligerent command of President Donald Trump, director Ang Lee’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s lauded novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk seems almost nostalgic on one level. Shown from the perspective of a combatant during the early days of the “War on Terror”, the film is a study of personal and national identity at an ostensibly simpler time, when the shared cultural pain of 9/11 burned fresh, seemingly uniting America in unwavering jingoistic support for their military.
While the source novel skewered the contradictions and hypocrisies at play behind that patriotic façade using sharply subtle satire, Lee chooses instead to barrage his audience with a larger-than-life visual onslaught using all the cinematic technology his blockbuster budget could muster. Despite the undeniably awesome effect of the cutting-edge 3D and ultra-high frame-rates in his arsenal, this approach proves a substantial misfire, since it leaves the emotional heart of the film in tatters amongst the debris.
The narrative follows the eponymous “decorated hero”, Army Specialist Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) as he and his comrades in “Bravo Squad” are paraded to the delight of those watching the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving football extravaganza.
An increasingly traumatic series of flashbacks chart the squad’s tour of duty in Iraq through to their violent date with destiny: the worst day of Billy’s young life, and the one that stands to define it. It’s on the battlefield that the film (and its technical wizardry) works best, with an intensity to the firefight matching classics of the war movie genre like Platoon and Apocalypse Now. Back in the sporting arena, the camera gymnastics continue as the primary medium through which the garishly red, white, and blue pageantry of Billy’s halftime stroll is rendered, but the story that plays out in this setting doesn’t stand up to an inspection of such visual fidelity.
Neither a dreary romantic subplot involving painfully one-dimensional cheerleader Faison (Makenzie Leigh), nor Steve Martin’s sneering cartoon of a performance as the stadium’s capitalist owner do anything to remedy an all-pervading sense of stilted “made for TV” sterility. This same sense sees the extensive overt philosophising that makes up the film’s final third quickly outstay it’s welcome.
Though an admirable feat of technology, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk ultimately doesn’t offer a compelling enough narrative, nor believable enough characters, to make it an experiment worth investing in from an audience’s perspective.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is released nationwide on 10th February 2017.
Watch the trailer for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk here: