'Billy Lynn' a lesser movie in standard def
Director Ang Lee shot "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," an adaptation of Ben Fountain's novel about a platoon of Iraq War soldiers honored during a football game in Dallas in 2004, in 3D format with 4K resolution at 120 frames per second (five times higher than an ordinary movie). The intention was to give the viewer the sense of being there alongside the young Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn), whether he's dodging bullets on the battlefield or tentatively participating in a spectacle that turns him into a billboard for a pro-war government.
But after a disastrous premiere at the New York Film Festival last month, at which critics complained the movie's hyper-realism was distracting and off-putting, "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" is opening theatrically in plain old 2D. In the case of Peter Jackson trilogy of "Hobbit" pictures, which were shot using similar technology but were rarely screened that way, the loss was no big deal.
But for better or worse, Lee designed every shot of his film to be seen in immersive 3D (the benefits of the 4K technology are still visible in the final release version; you can look into the stands at the football stadium and tell the computer-generated extras apart from the real people). Without it, "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" feels like a neutered movie: Watching it, you're constantly wondering what it would have looked like the way Lee intended, particularly with its emphasis on close-ups and characters staring directly into the camera.
The screenplay, by Jean-Christophe Castelli, is too flimsy to prop the film up on its own. Clint Eastwood covered near-identical thematic territory in "Flags of Our Fathers," and that one felt slight too. The scenes of Billy awkwardly interacting with his family (including his anti-war sister, played by Kristen Stewart), are trite; the stuff on the battlefield, with Vin Diesel as Billy's commanding officer, is even cornier.
There's a meta-subplot involving a Hollywood producer (Chris Tucker) trying to sell the platoon's life rights for a film adaptation to a stingy businessman (Steve Martin), but it comes off as padding. The movie's best sequence is the eponymous event, in which the fireworks exploding above the stadium trigger unexpected flashbacks for Billy and his fellow soldiers. In his debut, Alwyn comes off as a likable, sympathetic screen presence capable of handling more difficult material. He'll have plenty more opportunities. "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," though, will be forgotten in a month's time.
BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK
2 out of 4 stars
Cast: Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, Steve Martin, Kimberly Battista.
Director: Ang Lee.
Screenwriter: Jean-Christophe Castelli.
Based on the novel by Ben Fountain.
A TriStar Films release.
Running time: 110 minutes.
Rated R: Vulgar language, war violence, sexual content, adult themes.