Excerpts from my 10.15 review of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (TriStar, 11.11), posted from NY Film Festival on 10.15.16: “I went into last night’s 6 pm screening with high expectations for the 120 frames-per-second, 4K 3D photography (I’ve been a general fan of HFR for decades) and a slight sense of caution and uncertainty about the basic bones of the thing, which all along had sounded to me like an Iraq War rehash of Clint Eastwood‘s Flags Of Our Fathers (the gap between hollow patriotic pageantry and the harsh realities of war) and therefore nothing new.
“And then I saw it and the cards got all shuffled around. The tech aspect impressed but also underwhelmed in certain ways. My eyes became used to the hyper-clarity after a while, and as the acclimation took hold I began to search for the usual nutritional stuff, and to my surprise Billy Lynn gradually sank in and delivered — not in a rock-your-world sense but in quiet, unforced terms. The story, acting and plain-dealing emotion bring things to a mid-level boil.
“It finally hits home, I’m saying. Not so much from the easy-lay observations about hollow patriotism and pageantry and the atmosphere of official delusion but from the general feeling of bonding and, yes, fraternal love between combatants. The transitions between American celebration and Iraqi desperation grow in intensity, and the peripherals recede as the fundamentals apply. Your brothers in arms are all you can count on. I’ve felt this current in dozens of war films before, but it got me again.
“Is Billy Lynn an audaciously original, blow-your-socks-off experience? No, but the material is the material (i.e., Ben Fountain’s 2012 novel), and the delivery is understated and effective. It’s not a wipe-out or a burn, and anyone calling Billy Lynn that just isn’t paying sufficient attention…they aren’t letting it in.
“120 fps photography means no lighting, no makeup, no artifice — you have to shoot raw.
“The most exciting and satisfying display of the ‘whole shebang’ comes with the Iraq shoot-out sequence, but it doesn’t last that long. Mostly Billy Lynn strands you in that fucking football stadium, and after a while I was muttering to myself ‘can we please get back to those bright, sandy-colored Iraq visuals and the action stuff?…those eight to ten minutes are really the shit.’
“Billy Lynn deserves to be respected and saluted for its technical ambition and its humanity. It’s a medium-level piece with good internals (Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn has called it a ’50s-style, live-TV Playhouse 90-type drama, which is exactly what I was thinking as I watched it), and shouldn’t be dumped on.
“The main complaint seems to be that Billy Lynn‘s modesty and familiarity — the standard us-vs.-them soldier attitude, the glitzy football-stadium setting, the Iraq War backdrop — doesn’t mesh with the intensity of the imagery. You’re asking yourself ‘why exactly was the 120 fps experience deemed necessary to make this modest little piece come alive?’
“The answer is that while 120 fps 4K 3D might not be a vital ingredient, it sure as shit enhances and intensifies. Yes, you become accustomed to it, and yes, it becomes something you start to push past or not care as much about starting around…oh, the 45-minute mark (except, that is, for the Iraq battle footage, which is really and truly worth the price in itself) but I was fully taken with what I was seeing and feeling. It was different, extra-level.”