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“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” hopes to change the way movies are made and seen

billy lynns long halftime walk joe alswyn
What a difference a month or two makes. Before its debut at the New York Film Festival, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was thought to be potentially the main challenger to frontrunner La La Land at the Oscars. Then, it screened at NYFF to middling to poor reviews, with most pundits, including myself, being let down by the final product. Now, this week brings its general theatrical release, which comes without the buzz of Academy Award glory. Still, is it worth seeing? Are there redeeming elements to Ang Lee’s latest? Will it wind up being completely shut out by Oscar? Read on to find out!

For any of you still wondering, the film is an adaptation of the well regarded novel of the same name by Ben Fountain. Set mostly during Thanksgiving Day, it follows the title character Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) and his platoon as they’re honored during the halftime show of a Dallas Cowboys (though they never say Cowboy) football game for their heroism. As Billy and his fellow soldiers are feted, he flashes back on what really happened back in Iraq, which has shaken him to his core. There’s also time spent with his protective sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart), who wants him to stay home and not go back to war. For the most part, Billy and his crew just deal with the dichotomy of being labeled a hero back home and the actions that got them there while abroad. It’s really a surprisingly intimate character study on the page, though that doesn’t come across as well on screen. On the flip side, the flashbacks are pretty visceral, especially the big battle sequence. Lee obviously directs, with the adaptation penned by Jean-Christophe Castelli. Besides Alwyn and Stewart, the cast includes Steve Martin, Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund, Chris Tucker, Tim Blake Nelson, Makenzie Leigh, Beau Knapp, and many more. Cinematography here is by John Toll.

Sadly, this is a really flawed movie. It of course was notable for the way it was being presented. Lee sought to showcase it in NYFF in 4K, 120 frames per second, and in 3D. Now, that’s how I saw it, and while the battle and halftime sequences are exquisite, the rest of the film just is a bad match for the format. Shot mainly in closeups, it’s just uncomfortable. Alwyn has the goods as an actor and Stewart is very strong as well, but the rest of the cast disappoints, while the script by Castelli is many steps down from the source material. Lee can do better, and he often has. Just, not here. This is lesser Lee, as it were.

billy lynns long halftime walk vin diesel
Awards wise, I think this is no longer anywhere close to an across the board contender. Still, campaigns will be launched in Best Picture, Best Director (for Lee), Best Actor (for Alwyn), Best Supporting Actor (for Diesel, Hedlund, Martin, and/or Tucker), Best Supporting Actress (for Stewart), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Castelli), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, and Best Visual Effects. Most of these categories are long shots, but the technical fields are probably still in play. I doubt any wins will come of this, but a tech nomination or two certainly makes some level of sense.

In the end, Friday brings us a flawed but potentially interesting film in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. It will definitely intrigue some based on the revolutionary format, but just as an awards hopeful, it comes up short. I certainly didn’t hate this movie, but it did let me down quite a bit. Provided it can make some money and get better reviews from the general critical populous, there’s a chance it comes back to life, but this is more than likely an Oscar also ran. As for its pure cinematic being, you’ll have to see it and make up your own mind. I wouldn’t steer you clear of it, but just know that it’s not up to Lee’s usual standards…

Be sure to check out Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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