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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Movie Review

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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is not the typical war film. In fact, scenes depicting the Iraq War only take up about a third of the film. However, that is almost to be expected from Ang Lee, a filmmaker not known for following normal genre rules. Adapting Ben Fountain’s satirical novel of the same name, this is a more meditative look into a soldier’s psyche and the post-traumatic stress that afflicts him following his tour in Iraq. Through most of it, Lynn and his fellow soldiers are backstage at a sporting event and the film effectively shows how this brings back memories as he questions how much of a hero he truly is.

Following the source material’s structure, Ang Lee and screenwriter Jean-Christophe Castelli jump between Lynn’s time in Iraq, his time at the stadium and a brief stop at home. These scenes are decently connected not just through the script, but also thanks to Tim Squyres’s clever editing. The main theme running through the film is questioning one’s duty and how one perceives a hero and this is done through Lynn’s interactions with other people, including average Americans expressing their patriotism, an energetic agent trying to get the Bravo troop a movie biopic and Steve Martin’s sports team owner. The script also contrasts Lynn, who appears to represent the ideal of how Americans view their troops, with his more boisterous fellow soldiers. This only drives home the point how he’s drawn to this world, mostly to be both respected and be part of a group. Why go home to a never satisfied father when these boys, no matter how obnoxious, are more welcoming of him?

Lee puts a lot into bringing the audience into the world of Billy Lynn. The few heavy war scenes there are pack the necessary punch, catapulting the viewer into the danger of the front lines. This is emphasized by his relationship with a commander and his death casts a shadow on Lynn’s entire journey. The size of the stadium is imposing in its size, which the owner takes great pride in. Lee throws in little visual images that bring it all home for the soldiers, putting one into their mindset of how something so ordinary to us can be traumatizing to somebody who has previously faced a scary event.

Lee uses faces a lot, with multiple scenes featuring close-ups of actors as they talk directly to the camera. This is partly as a result of the infamous higher frame rate used to shoot the film (on most screens, Billy Lynn will only be shown in the conventional 24 frames per second) and knowing this takes one out of the film. Camera pans also appear odd and jittery. It would be curious to see Lee’s intended vision to compare. Sequences like the halftime show are probably more suited for hyper-realism than small character scenes, but they are still immersive, even without the added bells and whistles. One does wonder if higher frame rates will ever resonate with audiences.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk will probably not find much appraisal from a crowd looking for a war film in the vein of American Sniper and Lone Survivor. Both are fine films, but this is not that kind of hero’s journey. This is mostly about contemplating one’s role in society and how much going overseas to kill affects whether a solider can return from that. This is a character study with some humourous satirical elements thrown in, to emphasize the contrast of these wild sporting events to the dangerous terrain of war zones. It’s typical of Ang Lee’s cinema and one can see why the project attracted him so much.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison