Throughout his award-winning career, Ang Lee has not released a true dud. Even with its faults, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk has the requisite visual creativity and thoughtfulness. One wonders if seeing the film in the 120-frames-per-second 3D 4K in which Lee shot it would change the experience. Would its first-person shots engage the audience in an experience more VR than POV? Or would such visual wizardry, usually pioneered by Peter Jackson or James Cameron, make a difference for another “support the troops, not the war,” film that will not connect with audiences who prefer their war movies in the unapologetically jingoistic vein of American Sniper?
So much of the film feels stupidly manufactured for moments, and the actors struggle with platitudes masquerading as dialogue. Newcomer Joe Alwyn does bring an authenticity to the fresh-faced titular hero, and Garrett Hedlund does top-notch polite-sarcastic John Wayne as Lynn’s superior. The film works best in the rare wartime occasions spent with Vin Diesel’s philosophical officer; the bulk is a disapproving critique of the soldiers’ homecoming and their treatment at the halftime of a Thanksgiving Day football game in Dallas (Steve Martin is particularly cringe-inducing as a Jerry Jones proxy).
Billy’s impromptu relationship with a nubile cheerleader named Faison (Makenzie Leigh) may be the film’s least realistic moment, and this is a movie whose war sequences do not compete with, say, Saving Private Ryan’s D-Day sequence. Lee’s film is a noble effort, though it might merely be remembered as a footnote in the history of cinematic technology.