Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk (NYFF Review)

BILLY

Ang Lee is no stranger to subverting typical technique in filmmaking. No stranger to crafting beautiful and intimate films. Lee’s latest effort Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk shows the challenges of innovation, but the film’s consequent failing is being unable match its technical prowess.

Before commenting on Billy Lynn, it is fair to discuss Lee’s ultimate ambitions with the revolutionary leap in technology. Shooting the film in 4K 3D, Lee wanted to achieve a level of hyper-realism to capture his story, but it is at the cost of the aesthetic trappings. The issue is, only a few handful of theaters across the country are equipped to even accommodate the technology. Seeing the film in standard 2D definition, I was left wondering what Lee’s purpose was in utilizing the technology as is, and whether that purpose was clearly defined.

It is telling that the discussion of technology ultimately overshadowed Billy Lynn, with the film itself being mostly a mixed bag effort. Based on Ben Fountain’s satirical novel, there is a lot of interesting ideas thrown around involving America’s treatment of war veterans, our lack of understanding of soldier life, and the culture of soldiers. The problem being, the execution never actually captures these concepts with any thoughtfulness or potency.

Lee’s approach to Jean-Christophe Castelli feels off from the start. The material’s satirical roots are only incorporated partial, with the film in general featuring a tonal quagmire. Moments of saccharine drama are ultimately washed out from a largely downbeat theme and message, as Lee never can quite get a handle of how is trying to tell his tale.

Castelli’s screenplay fails to ever make the characters or their interaction’s feel innately human. The dialogue is unnatural, with each line of dialogue sounding clumsy and wooden as the last. It is at its worse when the film is trying to be the most moving and meditative, with dialogue sledgehammering its concepts with forced lines of earnestness. It all makes the drama here feel stilted, never once allowing its interesting ideals to fully flourish.

The performances here are all over the place. From Steve Martin’s bizarre appearance as the sleazy owner of the Dallas football team to Vin Diesel being left with a dreadfully ham-fisted role, it is hard to know who if it is Lee or the screenwriter is to blame for the faltering. Surprisingly enough, first time star Joe Alwyn holds his own, while experienced players like Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund add authenticity to their bit extended parts. The rest of the cast however is seemingly set-up to fail, never having the showcase material to shine.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is not without its strong moments. The signature walk, paired along with Billy’s war flashback, is both visceral and resonant. Lee’s talent as a director is on display there, as the audience experiences the horrific experience through Billy’s shoes. Ultimately it is a shame that the final product never has the dramatic potency or authenticity to match. [C]

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