His ability to translate pages to frames hasn’t waned yet,
no matter what anybody says. Billy Lynn’s
Long Halftime Walk is a successful, wildly underrated adaptation of Ben
It’s 2007, and nineteen-year-old soldier Billy Lynn (Joe
Alwyn) has recently been filmed doing something spontaneously heroic in Iraq.
His bravery in the heat of battle has become national news, and so he and the
rest of Bravo Squad have been on a nationwide ‘victory tour’, culminating with
a visit to Texas Stadium for an appearance at the football game’s halftime
Here, at the stadium, is the American experience in all its
self-mythologizing, contradictory, Gatorade-fuelled hallucination, an
experience almost as bewildering as fighting in the Middle East.
There are consolations in the form of free alcohol, friendly
cheerleaders, and the assurances of a producer (Chris Tucker) that he can make
a blockbusting movie of their lives. But the kids of Bravo Squad are tired and emotional,
and bugging out at the sheer amount of attention and phoniness coming their way
(‘Bravo Squad’ is itself an inaccurate media appellation). They're still mourning one of their men, and fireworks are bad
Kristen Stewart and Joe Alwyn in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Struggling with the lameness of this anti-climactic, calorific
tribute, Billy and the Bravos are forced into the company of clueless
philanthropists eager to rub shoulders with heroes, of mountainous football
players childishly curious about guns and ammo, and of civilians who seem
either misguidedly jingoistic in their gratitude or snarky in their
ignorance. Shunted everywhere by co-ordinators who unironically use the
language of war to choreograph the show, Bravo Squad approach a breaking point that
actual war never pushed them to.
Lee has used a high frame-rate that is initially jarring and
almost unanimously derided. The fuss is unwarranted. Yes, it’s uncinematic (if
only by dint of being unlike most cinema), even ugly at times, and perhaps
wouldn’t work for most films. But where it felt cheap in a fantasy like Peter
Jackson’s CGI-heavy Hobbit trilogy,
it perfectly captures the kind of hyper-reality that Billy Lynn is all about.
Lee’s film feels peeled. Not just in the battle-scene
flashbacks, but also in the stadium: under the high-intensity floodlights, the
garish, grisly bounteousness of America is on embarrassing display. The sheer
surface of the film makes you twitchy, and the characters themselves all look vaguely
bloodshot. Billy’s quest throughout the film is for Advil.
The flashbacks to Billy’s return home, and his relationship
with his doting sister (Kristen Stewart), are less successful. The frame-rate is uncanny and fake-looking here, and it
doesn’t help that the familial tensions feel trite. Lee can be a sentimental
director, and Billy Lynn is not free
of his most mawkish tendencies.
Thankfully, they’re balanced out by the presence of Sgt.
Dime (Garrett Hedlund), Bravo Squad’s bitter guide. His moral wit alternates
between dry and venomous – he’s given to apothegms like ‘every man’s penis has
the same IQ’, and ‘talk is cheap but money screams’ – and Hedlund’s performance
is the film’s highlight.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk can be broad, and is perhaps too neatly ended, but it’s a sympathetic, funny, and sad look at an aspect of America that boggles the mind and sandpapers the eyeballs.
|What||Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
10 Feb 17 – 10 Apr 17, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|