Under the Radar

A Military Satire Misfire: 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk'

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk  (out now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD) had a lot going for it well before the first day of filming. Based on Ben Fountain's prize-winning novel (awarded both the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and a National Book Award), the movie was directed by Ang Lee as his next film after his Best Director award for Life of Pi. The novel is a wicked farce about an Army unit brought home from Iraq for a goodwill tour after Private Billy Lynn is awarded a Silver Star for valor in combat. The tour climaxes at a Dallas Cowboys home game on Thanksgiving day where the troops are used a props during a halftime performance by Destiny's Child.

Ang Lee decided to tell the story in an experimental way, using a new 120 fps 3D at 2K resolution filming and projection system that he hoped would convey the surreal and disorienting experience that young men just home from combat faced when used to sell a controversial war to an American public that's not directly connecting to the action.

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The movie flopped in theaters and complaints about the projection technique were near unanimous. The new technology was supposed to represent an upgrade from the 48 fps projection that plagued Peter Jackson's The Hobbit in 2012. Almost every movie you've ever seen runs at 24 frames per second and the higher frame rates have a weird, hyperreal effect.

Joe Alwyn plays the young Billy Lynn. He's quite good and so is the rest of the cast. Kristen Stewart plays Billy's sister, a girl still recovering from the accident that led to Billy's enlistment. Chris Tucker plays the Hollywood producer trying to package a movie deal about the men's combat experience. Steve Martin is the Dallas Cowboys owner who thinks he might like to buy the movie rights. Garret Hedlund tries to keep the troops on track in Dallas as Sgt. Dime and Vin Diesel plays Billy's Army mentor Shroom in flashbacks that play out over the course of the movie. Makenzie Leigh is the Cowboys cheerleader who makes out with Private Lynn under the stands.

There's DNA in the script that recalls the disorientation faced by Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate or the swirling chaos of Robert Altman movies like M*A*S*H or Nashville. Those movies drive home the farce with over-the-top performances from the supporting cast. Lee gets his actors to dial down the voltage and let the film technique convey the confusion and alienation of the lead character. There's a good movie to be made from this script. A different approach from a different director could bring out the qualities that made the novel so successful.

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It just doesn't work. The satire doesn't bite. The camera shots from Billy Lynn's perspective look weird in two dimensions. The civilian characters don't have a clue what's going on in Iraq and they've got no idea how to relate to the men who are fighting the war. There's a chance for some dark humor here and none of it comes across.

There are some obvious corners cut in the budget as well. Destiny's Child really did perform "Soldier" in 2004 at a Thanksgiving Day game in the Cowboys' old Texas Stadium. That facility was blown up in 2010, so the producers filmed the game sequences at the (now closed) Georgia Dome in Atlanta. If you've watched much NFL football, you'll notice the not very effective effort to dress the stadium so that it didn't look like the home of the Atlanta Falcons. No one's going to believe we're in Dallas.

If you've invested in a 4K television and disk player, the 4K disc has 4K resolution, 60 Frames Per Second (FPS), with High Dynamic Range (HDR) and a 7.1 Dolby Atmos audio soundtrack. There's also a special featurette that details the technical breakthroughs that went into making the movie.

All versions of the movie come with deleted scenes and four featurettes about the making of the movie.

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