Review: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
A Noble MisfireTo be clear, this movie is nowhere near as bad as many critics would have you believe (I reckon the intended 4K/3D/120fps presentation may have clouded judgment for some), nor is it the unqualified success one might expect from director Ang Lee. His usual blend of formal elegance, human compassion, and sly humour is here and, in the film's best sequences, resonates wonderfully. There are no shortage of digs at the American spirit's unironic yin-yang of rhetorical unity and social prejudice, of noble intention and ignoble action, of preaching freedom and enforcing conformity. And the tacky largesse of the central football match and attendant halftime show is a fine backdrop against which to consider the American need for monument-building (and legend-cementing) in the face of unpalatable realities. And it's to the film's credit that, rather than milk the wartime flashbacks for extra spectacle, there is only one combat scene and it refrains from drawing a simplistic moral line between those fighting on either side. The acting's good throughout, too, though some pickier viewers make take exception to a few of the casting choices. But there are shortcomings. Looking back in hindsight, the structure and characterization are overly calculated, with a surprising number of on-the-nose moments for a film by Mr. Lee. The female characters feel under-written, clearly posited as emotional landmarks against which Billy's story is measured, with the romantic subplot feeling particularly like a thematic note that hasn't been sufficiently translated into convincing drama. But when it's focused on Billy himself, his conflicted inner-loyalties and camaraderie with the lads of his platoon, the film makes relevant points and scores as an affecting story of war's scars - physical, emotional, social, and cultural. It seems churlish to complain that a good film isn't great - but that's the price Ang Lee pays for having directed so many great films.