A drifting, pointless plotline with undefined characters, further ruined by an annoying new style of filming technique.
There have been breakthrough moments in the history of film technology, from the creation of talkies through the addition of color, and the coming, going and resurgence of 3D movie popularity. Add in Technicolor, 70 mm projection and the use of Cinerama along the way and one can find a long list of innovations that either became a standard practice in filmmaking or a noble failure.
Rank the new movie “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” among the list of failures, which is a surprising shame considering it comes from the usually superb filmmaker Ang Lee. Lee has brought the poetic grace of martial arts to the screen in stunning fashion in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” broke a box office taboo with “Brokeback Mountain” and crafted dazzling uses of CGI effects in “The Life of Pi.”
However, Lee also brought us the notorious failure of 2003’s “The Hulk,” which mixed ridiculously awkward cartoonish effects to bring the green monster to life amid a cast of human actors. And he’s got a similarly garish mashup of styles working against him in his new film.
Lee shot the film at 120 frames per second (fps), rather than the standard filming process of 24 fps. The first-of-its-kind effort was intended to immerse viewers in the film, particularly in a few intense military combat scenes, but the result actually gives the film a disorienting flat look that’s also so vivid that it serves as a distraction from the plot —which is a good thing, in this case.
Based on a novel of the same name by Ben Fountain, “Halftime” focuses on a 19-year-old soldier named Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), who becomes a national hero during the Iraq War in 2004 after killing an enemy soldier who had just shot a beloved sergeant named Shroom (Vin Diesel) and his heroics are inadvertently caught on videotape. He and his unit, known as Bravo Squad, have been sent by the US government on a national tour to hype the war and support soldiers, and most of the film depicts a day in which they are being honored at a Thanksgiving football game’s halftime show.
As the fresh-faced yet secretly troubled Lynn and his compatriots await their turn in the spotlight, the narrative alternates between the positive face he must wear during his experiences with fans, a press conference, a hot cheerleader who wants to give him something special for his heroics, and the shaken, sad reality he hides while drifting into flashback memories of life in Iraq and back home in Texas.
This may sound like potentially interesting fodder for a film, but something in the script by Jean-Christophe Castelli is extremely off. The characters largely have no depth to them, all the non-combat scenes are staged with the same, utterly inert energy and the combination of those factors combined with its extremely confusing flashback structure make “Halftime” literally impossible to care about.
One is left to wonder why Lee and his crew made the effort to shoot this film differently at all, because there are few if any scenes that call for an intensely unique look to draw viewers in. Much of the movie consists of Billy and his fellow soldiers sitting or walking in uniform while waiting for their big halftime moment, and the rest consists of a series of flashbacks that rarely feature action.
There’s nothing here in the script or performances to make viewers say “Wow,” so why bother trying to do so at no doubt great expense visually? While the lead performances by Alwyn (a young Leonardo DiCaprio clone), Kristen Stewart and Diesel are solid, it’s almost maddening to see supporting turns by Chris Tucker and Steve Martin in a movie that gives them little to do, knowing that they have been avoiding sharing their talents in starring roles for years now.
The movie isn’t really offensive anywhere, with some uses of the F word that are scattered throughout the film but don’t seem out of place considering these are soldiers who are angry about what they have gone through in battle. It’s implied that Billy has sex with a cheerleader, but nothing is shown in that scene, though he also has a brief fantasy scene of having sex with her back home in Texas if they were married that is quick but frenzied, with no actual nudity shown. The war violence has some bloody imagery but there’s not much of it, and nothing is more graphic than other R-rated war films such as “Saving Private Ryan” or “Hacksaw Ridge.”
“Halftime” stands as one of the strangest, most disappointing films of the year, and most audiences will be happy to end their own suffering by walking out long before the movie’s own midpoint.