Review – Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

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by Kevin Muller

Throughout cinematic history, there have been many films that have tried to capture the medical condition known as “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” experienced by returning soldiers.  “The Deer Hunter” is a personal favorite and winner of the Best Picture Oscar back in 1978.  That film completely sold how war deteriorates the mind of many to the point of tragedy.   Many films before it and after give the condition its due through incredible writing matched with equally impressive acting and directing.   Now, two time Academy Award winner Ang Lee proposes to show the effects of the condition by shooting his entire new movie in 120 Frames per second.  Does it work or is it just a gimmick to cover a mediocre film?

For those of you who aren’t cinematic geeks, this is a revolutionary technique that can change the movies are presented.   Most films are shot at 24 frames per second.  It is the normal way films are usually shot and shown.  This film speeds up the frames to give it a more realistic feel.  That said, this format is only in less than ten theaters in the ENTIRE world.  It is an expensive way to show the story, but luckily one of those theaters was located in New York City.  That said, this review will briefly talk about the technique, but focus more on the other elements of the film.

In the film, Billy Lynn is part of Bravo team, who have just returned from a tour in Iraq, and are attending the 2003 Thanksgiving football game in Dallas.  Lynn is a celebrity due to his heroic act, which was saving his Sergeant, being caught on camera.   He and his team are going to honored by appearing on stage with Destiny’s Child and the promise of making loads of money on a deal with Hollywood to have their story made into a big screen picture.   While all this is happening, Lynn’s sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewert), is trying to get him to stay home because she sees the war is starting to change her brother’s well-being.

The tragic life of a broken soldier is done quite well here through the performance of new comer Joe Alwyn.  There are many types of wounded soldier types that appear on the big screen: the disgruntled war Veteran, the alcoholic/substance abuser, or one who may have a missing leg or any other limb.  Lynn is more of a soldier who has kept everything tucked inside.  He can smile, laugh, but if you really look at him, there is something broken or taken away from him.  This is one place where the filming technique works so wonderfully.   When the camera is close up, for the emotional shots, you can see every wrinkle and aging line on the actor’s face.  Thank goodness Alwyn gives a worthy performance because he sells most of his character’s journey through facial performance.  

Something equally impressive that Lee tackles is his examination of America’s relationship to those who serve.   Many of those fans are quite warm and thankful to Lynn and his squad.   The film technique adds to the already established scene.     Lynn is edgy and being surrounded by people, who are totally good natured, is something hard for anyone in his position.  The technique, along with the first person point of view, definitely makes the viewer feel the claustrophobic urgency.   The film also doesn’t shy away from the negative types of people that these soldiers run into.   No one can imagine being disrespectful to a soldier but Bravo Team run into countless people who mock them or even downright hate them to the point of numerous altercations.  It is refreshing to see these soldiers aren’t greeted and admired by everyone.  Not that I am against soldiers in anyway, but it does paint a realistic picture of how people like these do exist.

Even on the business end, these soldiers run into problems.  The owner of the Dallas team Norm Oglesby (Steve Martin), toys with their respect.  On top of giving them the honor of walking on his field, he is also the one who wants to fiancé the possible movie.   Even with people who defend his very way of life of making millions, he doesn’t have respect for these men to do them right.   Martin, a legend in the comedy realm, cranks up the awfulness of one who wants to exploit these men.   The performance does get a little on the side of parody but it is a perfect foil to the goodness that he is selling.  Examining the theme of the unfair treatment of soldiers is nothing new, but it works here and doesn’t feel shoehorned in.   If it was any other director, it might’ve felt tacked on or cheap, but Lee rightfully examines the subject.   War romanticizes people’s emotions and businesses feed off that very fact.   Even the love interest Billy runs into isn’t all that she is cracked up to be.  She loves the idea of fooling around with a man in uniform, not the man underneath the clothes.

Now, the war scenes and the half time show are where the movie sings.   These two sequences were filmed in with the high tech cameras.  In the midst of the internal chaos that goes on in his head, Billy had to keep his cool and stand tall while utter madness went on around him.     In both of these scenes the detail and sharpness is just unbelievable.   Everything pops out of the screen at full force.  It is a definite feast for the eyes.   It also immerses you into Billy’s world because you feel as he does.  It is such an assault of the senses.   As in the war, you feel as you are on the front lines with Billy.  Many reviews have criticized the casting of Vin Diesel as Lynn’s Staff Sergeant.  Diesel isn’t groundbreaking but he is believable and caring in the part.  Over the years, we have seen leaders of squads these deep and philosophical people.  Diesel does care for Lynn and provides some memorable lines but he feels very blue collar in the way that he is a man just trying to survive and be a leader for his group.

“Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk” is a pretty decent movie but for those of you who are or were lucky enough to see it in 120 frames per second, it may be a peek into the future of film making.  James Cameron has already expressed interest in using the technique in his next Avatar films.   The story isn’t that memorable or hard hitting, but the performances and the little extra Lee gives this does make it something you should check out 120 FPS or not.

GRADE- B

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