When it comes to American Football, the Halftime show has become also as big a deal as the main attraction. From the musical performances to fireworks and big name stars making appearances, halftime is all about entertainment and big thrills. Which is not at all what Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is at all.
To be fair, at its core, the story is not about the football or the stage performances – even if they do feature in the background – but about war and the effects, it has on the soldiers that experience it. Sadly, this important topic is never fully explored as the sloppy script and haphazard direction never allow the film to rise up and be the main show it was meant to be.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk follows the story of the Bravo squadron, a unit of the US army that survived a traumatic battle and are declared heroes as a result. It particularly focuses on Bill Lynn whose core moment of bravery was captured by TV cameras, making him a national celebrity. This Thanksgiving football game and its halftime show were supposed to be the opportunity to display the team’s heroics to the world, but as the film switches between the actual event and events leading up to and during the war, it becomes clear that the soldiers remain deeply affected by the war and find little reason to celebrate.
Early last year when word of the adaptation of a highly controversial book was in development and being directed by two-time Oscar winning director, Ang Lee – many thought that this film was going to be a shoe-in for Oscar nominations. Throw in a cast that features Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin and Chris Tucker alongside new comer Joe Alwyn and you have an eclectic variety of actors that should lead to an inspired film. In the end, this film passed with barely a whimper and here we are reviewing its DVD release.
It’s a pity because there is a lot to get excited about. Aside from a story with lots of potential, Ang Lee also made a decision to film this movie in 4K Ultra HD at 120 fps (standard films use only 24 fps), making it one of the most high-definition films ever produced. It was supposed to be an ambitious statement from an ambitious director to make this film stand out and be visually appealing. Sadly, none of this ambition or intent shines through in the product.
Watching this on a regular DVD, the high-definition effects were never going to come through, with the high frame-rates and additional detail spoiled and muddy. Firstly, the film as it stands is just not fast paced enough to really warrant the effects in the first place. Yes, there are a couple of war scenes and a halftime stage show that takes place in the background, but outside of these, they are wasted on point-of-view and close-up shots of the actors’ faces, where the additional detail is not warranted. In fact, this one of the disappointing directorial decisions of the movie as these scenes are robbed of immersion where having more over the shoulder shots or both actors in frame may have provided more on-screen chemistry and relevance.
The editing between the events of the present and the past is not always done at opportune times and instead of building tension, it robs the film of any real flow. The score has its moments, but again, much like everything else in the film, never stands up to the occasion and remains mostly forgettable.
The bright colour palette utilised in the cinematography also creates an inconsistent viewing experience. While it works for the colourful halftime show and many of the long shots, it doesn’t suit the dramatic moments which explore the war or Bill Flynn’s family a little more, which would’ve been better served up in a darker more melancholic tone than this bright and cheerful look.
The true problem with the story though most certainly lies in the script by Jean-Christophe Castelli, which quite frankly makes a mess of its source material. The dialogue is perhaps the biggest part of the blame. It is not only filled with horrendous clichés but has far too many moments of awful and clumsy dialogue. It’s evident that the mostly accomplished cast are at a loss in the film and in the end, the ensemble effort comes across as more comedy than anything dramatic.
Lead Alwyn does an okay job under the circumstances, though you wish there was more emotion displayed within this supposed turmoil that he is supposed to be portraying. As a character facing real symptoms of PTSD, he remains far too measured and together. Stewart is unconvincing with her exaggerated southern accent and Tucker plays the same fast talking person that he has played far too often. Steve Martin is perhaps best used as the boss of the Dallas Cowboys Football team and wannabe movie producer, but he does not get much screen time.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk lands up being amateurish at best and you can’t help but feel let down because it really should have offered so much more. A better script and some more restrained direction and this could’ve been a film that made a bold statement about war. Watch this film for the experiment that it was clearly meant to be, but don’t expect an accomplished piece of art.
Last Updated: August 17, 2017