Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: Jean-Christophe Castelli
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, Makenzie Leigh, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Joe Alwyn
Runtime: 113 Minutes
Taking a similar perspective as his 2012’s Life of Pi, Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a meditative exploration of spirituality as explored through the eyes of a single young man, and presented through accomplished effects in 3D and advanced digital photography. But that is really where the similarities end.
Although based on a satirical novel by Ben Fountain, which took a bleak and darkly funny look at the mindset of soldiers on the front lines in Iraq, the film instead takes a hopelessly sincere perspective of the young soldier Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) in his struggle. The film pays lip service to a multitude of themes, primarily the mythologizing of warfare into consumable propaganda and entertainment as the story of Lynn’s heroism in combat has taken on a life of its own in the eyes of the media.
This is the film’s strongest conceit, but the treatment of everything about it onscreen feels tame because of an incredibly weak and trite screenplay. The dialogue at times is insufferably poor, with unnatural sounding monologues being delivered by alternating characters as it checks moments and themes off the list. From the nihilism of the troops in his returning squad towards the public and the media, as well as the pitying and nakedly absolving cries of supporters who line up to have their two cents, these are all interesting angles there are never expanded upon beyond beats – and the pace of the film sags horribly with an overlong runtime of stretched out and repeated confrontations.
The direction by Lee is one of the few saving graces. His visual sense of composition and editing is still sharp, even if John Toll’s colourful cinematography feels inherently televisual in lighting and scope. The orchestration of certain moments and the lingering of images leave some of the intended impact behind.
Where the book succeeded in playing up the characters as stock emblems for their purposes in the story, even with the films twisted approach the performances are pretty decent at filling in the blanks through present charisma and emotion. Joe Alwyn shows real promise as a fresh-faced newcomer. Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund are typically phenomenal, including a toned down performance from Chris Tucker, but Steven Martin somehow manages to show as little range as Vin Diesel does.
This is unquestionably one of Ang Lee’s weakest films, and while it’s not quite the catastrophe the box-office might suggest with some decent humour and performances, it’s not all that worth the effort either.