Entertainment

'Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk' review: Ang Lee’s star-studded war flick an ambitious mess

By Jim Slotek, Special to Postmedia Network

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Entertainment Review

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

3 stars

  • Starring: Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin Screenplay: Jean-Christophe Castelli
  • Directed by: Ang Lee
  • Duration: 110 minutes

Ang Lee’s latest film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk makes me want to read the war-and-patriotism satirical novel by Ben Fountain it’s based on – just to see what I may have missed.

Lee is no satirist. In interviews he has expressed little interest in commenting on what Fountain calls a “bullsh—war” in Iraq. It’s hard to see what the filmmaker saw in the project – other than a chance to play with some new toys (more on that later). Still, this is a story with a trenchant edge that can't entirely be blunted.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a story of a team of soldiers who become tailor-made American heroes after their futile attempt to save a comrade (Vin Diesel) is caught on video and goes viral.

Interspersed with battle flashbacks, the movie picks up on them as they prepare to be feted at the halftime of a Texas football game featuring Destiny’s Child (doubles seen from behind), are wooed by an agent (Chris Tucker) to turn their story into a Hollywood movie, and ponder yet another tour of duty.

It’s presented even-handedly, almost dispassionately by Lee, to the point that the movie seems unsure what story it’s telling. But there are moments of sublime absurdity where Fountain’s acidic opinion of phony patriotism can’t help but shine through.

A narrative mess it may be, but the acting is above reproach, particularly the supporting cast. Not to fault newcomer Joe Alwyn (yet another Brit showing off an American accent), who gives an appropriately understated performance as soldier at the eye of the storm. But Kristen Stewart makes much of a handful of scenes as Billy’s sister – still sporting a facial scar from a car accident that played a part in his enlistment – who’s trying to get him help for PTSD.

Garrett Hedlund gives the movie its spine as the commanding officer named “Dime,” who tries to keep his men’s heads screwed on straight under the spotlight. Diesel, in a couple of flashback scenes, manages to create a Zen character of philosophic eccentricity. Tucker does a surprisingly good job of morphing from loud-mouthed huckster to good guy over the course of the plot. And Steve Martin has his serious face on as the cynical, ruthless club owner.

Of course, the movie itself has been lost amid the noise over its use of technology. Lee was adamant about shooting it in 120 frames per second (the standard for generations has been 24, although Peter Jackson experimented with 48 for The Hobbit).

In Canada, only moviegoers in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver will get to see the 120 fps version (early screenings in New York were also in 4K and 3D).

For the benefit of those who see the extra-frame version (or for those who feel left out), my opinion is that the experience didn’t differ much from The Hobbit. It may be that past a certain frame-rate, it’s beyond the processing ability of our eyes and brain.

What the extra fps does is lend a you-are-there element, which is actually kind of banal if you’re in a room with two people talking. Battle scenes are a different story (as is the bombast of a good ole televised American halftime show).

Still, the movie is the thing. And beyond a few shining moments, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a bit of a trudge.

Twitter: @jimslotek

JSlotek@postmedia.com