Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

2016, R, 110 min. Directed by Ang Lee. Starring Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Arturo Castro, Steve Martin, Vin Diesel, Chris Tucker, Makenzie Leigh, Kristen Stewart.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Wed., Nov. 23, 2016

A rare dud from two-time Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain), Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk marches in formation but stirs little awe. The troops perform admirably and complete the film’s overall mission, but nothing has been won, no ground is gained. Based on the 2012 novel by Ben Fountain (with a screenplay by first-timer Jean-Chrisophe Castelli), Billy Lynn takes place on Thanksgiving Day 2004, during a halftime appearance at a Dallas football game as the culmination of Bravo Squad’s two-week heroes’ tour of the U.S.A. The film hits all the story’s marks as it depicts the discombobulating swirl of Private Billy Lynn’s thoughts on the day in question. The only problem is that this Thanksgiving is no fateful day packed with pivotal moments and significant changes, or one that alters the life of the protagonist, or our understanding of him. Nor does the film deliver a sense of the unfettered patriotism or unconstrained satire that the story premise seems to warrant. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is dramatically inert.

Newcomer Joe Alwyn can’t be faulted for his performance as the film’s title character. His open-faced and evocative Billy Lynn is a 19-year-old Army private and inexperienced virgin from Stovall, Texas, who has become an overnight hero due to a viral photograph of him taking dead aim at the enemy while rescuing the body of his wounded lieutenant (Diesel) in Iraq. We join Billy and his squad in a Cowboys-like football arena in Dallas shortly thereafter, during a quickly arranged national tour designed to celebrate national heroes and the American armed forces. Bravo Squad is set to appear as the background artillery during a halftime performance by Destiny’s Child (featuring a Beyoncé-like stand-in cagily filmed only from behind). The artifice of the staged event contrasts with Billy’s flashbacks to the battlefields of Iraq. Meanwhile, the showtime fireworks and loud blasts rattle the PTSD-frayed nerves of the soldiers. A fast-talking manager (Tucker) is constantly on the horn trying to sell the squad’s story to Hollywood, and the team owner (Martin, in a Jerry Jones-like turn) tries to charm the soldiers and lowball them at the same time. A pretty cheerleader (Leigh) talks of God and country while making out with the smitten Billy, while his sister (Stewart) wages an earnest campaign to talk her brother out of redeploying. These various strands roll through Billy’s mind like scenes in a Mattel View-Master, but none gain much emotional momentum or dramatic weight. The absurdities never amount to a Catch-22, and the follies never add up to a Slaughterhouse Five. Little wit will be found here, sardonic or otherwise.

The knock on Billy Lynn is that too much attention was paid to the film’s pioneering shooting technique, in which director Ang Lee and cinematographer John Toll wildly bumped up the frame rate so that the 3-D image has a vividness and clarity that surpass anything else on the screen today. That is, maybe it will appear that way to you if you’re one of the few to see the film at either of the two solitary venues in the country where it is being projected in this manner. The rest of us will see a 2-D film that contains some sharp imagery that is ultimately blunted by the dullness of the storytelling. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a hobbled parade.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Ang Lee Films
Life of Pi
This time Ang Lee's tiger is not crouching; this animal has its claws out and has only an adolescent boy for companionship – or vice versa.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Nov. 23, 2012

Taking Woodstock
The director of Brokeback Mountain looks for peace and love in another decade and finds it at the legendary festival through the story of one key participant.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Aug. 28, 2009

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Sunset
Follow-up to Oscar winner Son of Saul keeps the techniques but loses the emotional weight

April 26, 2019

Penguins
Chilly nature documentary has a cuddly heart that's perfect for young animal lovers

April 19, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ang Lee, Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Arturo Castro, Steve Martin, Vin Diesel, Chris Tucker, Makenzie Leigh, Kristen Stewart

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle