Thursday, October 20, 2016

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”– Movie Review



On the closing weekend of The 54th New York Film Festival, I attended the World Premiere of the new war drama, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”, directed by Ang Lee. 


When an American soldier is hailed as a hero, he’s invited to appear at a football game’s halftime show on Thanksgiving Day – but with the loss of his sergeant still haunting him, is he suffering a psychological trauma?


After a long, hard tour of duty in Iraq, Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is finally back in his small town Texas home.  Thanks to a video being extensively repeated by the national news media, the American people see Billy as a hero because he tried to save his sergeant (Vin Diesel) during a fierce firefight.  The story being told was that although the sergeant ultimately perished, Billy risked his own life in an effort to attempt to rescue him.  But does Billy himself really believe this story?  Do his fellow soldiers believe it?  For the time being at least, it’s irrelevant since it wound up getting them off the battlefield. 

Billy and his squad are in Dallas to participate in the halftime show on Thanksgiving Day; they’re represented by a Hollywood agent (Chris Tucker) trying to work out a deal for turning their story into a movie that is expected to bring them all a tremendous payday.  Unfortunately, there are not that many fish biting, much to everyone’s surprise given how popular this story has become.  The only deal that seems viable at this point is one being offered by the owner of the football team (Steve Martin) who is lowballing all of the soldiers, despite his alleged patriotism and admiration for their service to the country. 

Meanwhile, Billy’s sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) is deeply concerned.  In their private chats, she realizes he’s still extremely disturbed and might benefit from professional help.  She convinces him this option is worth considering, but part of Billy feels that even though it might be of some use to him, he’s still got some unfinished business back in Iraq that he must confront.  Also, what is there for him to come home to aside from a fractured family and grim prospects for employment?  When time comes for his squad to be re-deployed, will Billy return to Iraq with them or will he take his sister’s advice and see a VA doctor?


There are two points worthy of discussion here:  one, of course, is the movie itself; the other is the cutting-edge technology used to shoot the motion picture.  Let’s take them on separately starting with “Billy Lynn” as a film:

The central question it appears we are left with at the conclusion of “Billy Lynn” is whether or not Billy will get the help he so desperately (and so obviously) needs.  Will he ultimately choose to return to Iraq for yet another battle (from which he may or may not return)?  On the surface Billy seems happy to be home because he’s with family and in familiar surroundings.  But have his experiences in Iraq changed him so much that home no longer feels like home?  Perhaps for Billy, “going home” really means returning to fight in Iraq. 

Much of the movie is told not only through Billy’s viewpoint, but also via his own personal flashbacks as well.  We see his recollections of the combat that made him famous and how it differs from the video of that same incident which was shown repeatedly on the news.  While we get a taste of how veterans are sometimes mistreated and given lip service for their sacrifices, the film lacks a significant emotional impact.  It might be that “Billy Lynn” is ultimately undone by its own equanimity; the motion picture is almost as impassive as a freshly lobotomized psychiatric patient. 

Now, for the technology:

“Billy Lynn” was shot in 4K, which is a first for a full length feature film; it is native 3D at the ultra high rate of 120 frames-per-second.  This was the first time ever that The New York Film Festival publicly screened a film in this format; 3D glasses were distributed to attendees.  For those of you who are interested in learning more about the background of “Billy Lynn” and its technology, please check out this New York Times article

Although the movie is merely good, the technology used to make it is much better – truly extraordinary, in fact.  It would in no way be an overstatement to call it groundbreaking.   The technology really makes you feel as though you are right there in the movie itself, standing next to the characters, effectively in the scene with them.  Without a doubt, it’s the most immersive experience you can ever hope to achieve as a moviegoer. 

After watching a film utilizing this technology, it makes you feel as though the use of 3D prior to this has been a complete and total waste of time up to this point.  However, 4K is no gimmick.  If you do go to see this movie, make sure you see it in a theater that supports this technology.  You definitely won’t regret doing so even if you have to pay a few extra dollars for the privilege – it is without a doubt worth it for the sheer other-worldly experience.  Even though the movie is a bit flat, “Billy Lynn” is unequivocally a superior technical achievement by director Ang Lee. 

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016) on IMDb

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