“It’s sort of weird being honored for the worst day of your life..”
Nineteen-year-old private Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, what really happened to the squad is revealed, contrasting the realities of the war with America’s perceptions. Based on the novel by Ben Fountain.
Ang Lee has made a point to drench his career in innovation, and visual mystique. With Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Hulk, and Life of Pi, Lee has become enamored with bright colors, and advanced visual thematics meant to dazzle you with spectacle. He has done well to measure and contrast the display, with depth of story, and meaningful emotional connections. Then there is his latest effort, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which produces a surreal experience due to the experimental 120 frames per second, but proves to be all sauce and no meat.
The story is rendered from the Ben Fountain’s quasi satirical Iraq War veteran story, that is meant to produce photo realism, but instead becomes a hollow and soulless firework display. The technology is not something that most theaters have at their disposal, so it’s extremely unlikely you will get to see this film as it’s meant to be seen. If you’re one of the lucky minority that does, then maybe this resonated on a visceral level with you. If you’re in the majority, however, you were subjected to a circus act in 2D, where the visuals create confusion, and lack the majesty they were meant to create. Without the full scope of the film’s technologically based visual output, the myriad of brash explosions and close up perspective camera work, seem strange at best, and disruptive at worst. The rest of the film, whether the story, or the performances, just doesn’t stand strong on it’s own, and thus relies too heavily on it’s gimmick to produce a decent experience.
The film is based on the title character and his platoon as they make the rounds on a press tour after a harrowing mission that lost one of their own. The story has a built in emotional base that should have been easy to manipulate, but Lee doesn’t seem interested in building any real connection with the audience. Joe Alwyn, as the title character, is a piece of wood. He unfortunately doesn’t seem to encompass the range necessary to elicit any emotional response. The film is meant to rely on his quiet demeanor, and unfortunately his inability to radiate and emote without dialogue becomes a serious hinderance on the narrative. The rest of the performances all fall flat. Everyone seems to be this bloated caricature, ticking boxes, instead of providing any remote level of sincerity. Garrett Hedlund’s square jawed all american sergeant is the only one that hits the mark. His comedic timing, and stern delivery seem to encapsulate the character. He’s the least contrived of the bunch.
The main concerns all seem to stem from the script. The structure is completely bewildering, and the retrospective format becomes a tired nuisance forcing the audience to navigate too much, while offering so little in terms of pay off. There are some dead end plot points, and some laughable interactions that are scoff provoking. This is exemplified most by Kristen Stewart and Joe Alwyn’s complete lack of chemistry. There is no pulling punches, Stewart is bad in this movie, and Alwyn is no better.
This film feels like there is something critical missing from the story. It’s edited in a way that seems to purposefully veil the potential motivations. It becomes impossible to discern what the point of this movie is, because it meanders so much, that no single moral is left to simmer. Instead, Lee elects to create a bombastic visual display, while forgetting to tell a coherent story. The casting becomes a bold distraction, deterring viewers from making a connection. Stewart, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, and Chris Tucker–do not embody their characters enough, and as a result, it becomes impossible to see past the performer and into the performance. There are some heavy handed thematics at play, and the overarching metaphor of the title character coming to grips with his situation and his uncertainty, isn’t enjoyable to endure. This is a long march through a thick swamp of listless morals that hold no weight and just bog the film down. Billy Lynn and Lee seem to want to jab at the armchair patriots, and social media peace warriors, but it gets so lost in the overblown exterior and loses effect. The film fails on an emotional level, and on a satirical one. Actually, the film fails on every level, say for the technical aspect–whose wizardry, ninety percent of audiences will never get to experience. There is nothing formative to gather here, and this is just a big misguided mess of visual acrobatics, that try to mask the inadequacy of it’s boorish script.
1.85/5 Do Better Bro