Combustible Celluloid
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With: Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Kimberly Battista, Makenzie Leigh, Beau Knapp, Dierdre Lovejoy, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Tim Blake Nelson, Ben Platt
Written by: Jean-Christophe Castelli, based on the novel by Ben Fountain
Directed by: Ang Lee
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some war violence, sexual content, and brief drug use
Running Time: 110
Date: 11/11/2016

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Outstanding in His Field

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Award-winning filmmaker Ang Lee assembles a decent collection of effective scenes in this serious effort, but also several scenes that don't really work; in the end, it doesn't seem to add up to much.

In Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, the title character (Joe Alwyn) is a 19 year-old serving as an Army Specialist on an eight-man unit, Bravo Squad, in Iraq. An act of bravery is captured on camera and Billy becomes a national hero. His unit is brought home for a victory tour, culminating with an appearance at the Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys football game.

While there, Billy flashes back to his war experiences, meets a beautiful cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh), tries to negotiate a movie deal with an agent (Chris Tucker), and has a crisis of conscience as his sister (Kristen Stewart) tries to urge him not to return to the war. Memories of his spiritual-minded sergeant (Vin Diesel) and the presence of his current sergeant (Garrett Hedlund) spur him in a different direction.

The camaraderie between Billy Lynn and his unit is infectious, and the movie has some fine performances, but they are within a vacuum. One of the movie's many points is that other characters do not know how to interact with them, and so every interaction, whether good or bad, is left with a question mark.

Additionally, Lee falls into the same trap that so many other makers of war films do; he wants to be respectful of the troops who fight, but also wants to condemn the futility and misery of war, and the result is numbingly neutral.

Technically, Lee's work is fine, but it doesn't help that he insisted on filming in a super-high frame rate and in 3D, which seems to have the effect of looking extra-fake and being quite distracting. The normal, 24fps, 2D presentation is preferable, but even that can't stop the disappointing after-effect of an otherwise ambitious movie.

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