“It takes a lot of money to look this cheap” is a quote made by Dolly Parton, and one that can applied to Ang Lee’s latest production, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. For the Taiwanese, Oscar winning filmmaker has presented this endeavour in 120 frames per second, a new means of technology and to be frank, it’s a distracting, devaluing means of storytelling, for while striving to be modern and take this art-form to the next level, what transpires is a film that carries the same production value as an episode of Aussie soap opera Neighbours.
Based on Ben Fountain’s novel of the same name, we meet Billy Lynn (played by British newcomer Joe Alwyn) as he returns home to America following a tour in the Middle East, alongside his entire squadron, as they’re met with a heroes welcome after footage surfaced on the aforementioned soldier committing courageous acts on the battlefield. Alongside his commander Dime (Garrett Hedlund), the group set off to the Thanksgiving football game, where they are to be presented to the crowd during the halftime show, a world that couldn’t be further away from the one the young men had left behind. With Billy’s sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) vying tirelessly to convince her brother to stay in the States, he begins to question his place in the world, and exactly what the future holds.
Using a similar technique that Clint Eastwood used in American Sniper, Lee utilises sounds and imagery to provoke flashbacks to the war-zone, such as when fireworks going off during the grandiose show, which seek only in reminding our protagonist of the sound of gun shots, making for a distinctly visceral piece of cinema. The juxtaposition between the two worlds is a stark one, and is the most intriguing aspect of this feature, as we see how uncomfortable these men are at having to parade around as heroes when in reality, they feel like anything but. On a more negative note, the inclination to set this narrative mostly across just one day, makes matters tricky for the filmmaker, as he is tasked with having to maintain the realism of the picture – which is so essential where this tale is concerned, given it’s placed so pertinently in the real world – and yet so much happens to the eponymous lead that all we do is question the authenticity. The romantic narrative, superfluously shoehorned into proceedings, is emblematic of this fact.
But the biggest flaw of all is the aesthetic experience, as it’s so immensely distracting, and cheapens the film in a remarkable way, where it feels like a student project rather than a big-budget, Hollywood endeavour. Lee has always been a filmmaker to take risks, and this is no difference, it’s just a shame in this instance they aren’t paying off. That being said, hiring both Steve Martin and Chris Tucker proves otherwise, as it’s a joy to see the pair on the big screen, albeit in a rather underwhelming production.