Directed by: Ang Lee
Starring: Joe Alwyn, Steve Martin, Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart
Runtime: 113 minutes
Release: February 10, 2017
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is director Ang Lee’s first film since Life of Pi, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Director in 2013. Unfortunately Billy Lynn, which chronicles the internal struggle of a decorated young soldier, does not live up to Lee’s previous standards of filmmaking. In fact, this film falls far short of being a good film in any sense at all.
“A considerable dive in quality for director Ang Lee… a mess of undeveloped themes, poor scriptwriting, and bad acting.”
The narrative traces the course of one day, in which Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) participates in the halftime show at an American football game. It is obvious from the outset that Billy is in a different state of mind than his fellow soldiers, and Lee introduces this theme quite subtly at first by framing him separately to the others. However this allusion is made countless times throughout the film, with little development, and becomes more tiresome each time. This frustration is not helped at all by Alwyn’s poor performance as Lynn, who perhaps Googled “morally perplexed facial expression” and adopted the first result for the duration.
A good performance is hard to come by in this film, as is decent dialogue. Billy Lynn features a host of supporting characters, from the stadium staff, to Billy’s family, to other soldiers. Though there are many speaking parts, only a handful manage to be convincing.
“Some of the dialogue sounds like it was written for American Pie.”
One scene, in which Billy and another soldier share a joint with a staff member, is nothing short of cringe-worthy. The actors are not totally to blame here, as their lines are poorly written, either too on-the-nose or utter nonsense. Some of the dialogue sounds like it was written for American Pie.
Billy Lynn is about the soldier’s search for meaning, and whether he should stay in the military or return home. Many ideas are touched on—the military as a function of American consumerism, the disparity between soldiers and civilians, and Billy’s personal reasons for enlisting—but never explored to their potential. This bombardment of “issues” makes for a thematically muddled film, and results in a weak ending.
This marks a considerable dive in quality for Lee. Despite a promising start, Billy Lynn soon becomes a mess of undeveloped themes, poor scriptwriting, and bad acting. It tries to communicate something profound but falls flat in every way.
In a Nutshell: A film with some big ideas that never ends up saying much.