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Blu-ray Review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

February 15, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

billy-lynns-long-halftime-walk-blu-rayAfter becoming known as a hero in Iraq when his attempts to rescue Seargeant Shroom (Vin Diesel) are caught on camera, young private Billy Lynn (James Alwyn) is brought back to Texas with his fellow soldiers from Bravo Squad for a victory tour in 2004.

The soldiers are set to perform in the halftime show at the Thanksgiving football game.  But as they sit in the stadium and prepare for their much hyped public appearance, Billy Lynn is haunted by memories from the war that seem indicative of growing PTSD.

As the events of the day unfold, his sister (Kristen Stewart) is trying to convince him to not reenlist, and he catches the eye of a young cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh) who presents a tantalizing alternative to going back to Iraq.

With the main narrative unfolding almost in real time over the course of the football game, with the brutal battle that led up to their celebration being revealed through tense flashbacks, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a unique experience on several levels.  The film was initially released in 3D with a much touted higher frame rate of 120 fps, which I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to see.  But even without these extra trappings on Blu-ray, it’s still a frequently immersive experience.

The film is often framed in tight closeups that are jarringly affective at capturing the disorientation of the soldier’s sudden media attention after the harshness of their experiences in the war, with faces appearing almost distractingly crystal clear.  The halftime walk sequence at the centre of the film is grippingly pulled off, with the pyrotechnics of the stage recalling the explosions of war and giving way to flashbacks of critical moments in battle, drumming up palpable suspense as the soldiers take the stage alongside Destiny’s Child circa 2004.

Adapting Ben Fountain’s novel for the screen, director Ang Lee handles this all with a sure touch.  The master filmmaker shows off cutting edge technical prowess in his shooting style, while also grounding the film in quiet moments between its characters.  As the narrative shifts seamlessly between its multiple different strands, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk becomes compelling for the way it finds humanity behind the character’s decisions.  The film paints its soldiers as young men who see the immediacy of war as an escape from just drifting, and maybe the only way of finding purpose in their broken lives.

They are doomed to be pawns in a war that America never should have been part of in the first place, but their country hasn’t exactly given them much else to do either.  The growing divide between the media circus the soldiers end up caught up in and the realities of their experiences overseas, is further widened by an agent (Chris Tucker) who is trying to lock down a lucrative movie deal, funded by the shrewd Dallas football team owner (Steve Martin) who seeks to exploit them.

There is an undercurrent of anxiety and claustrophobia running through the film, capturing the feeling of the soldiers struggling to balance the superficiality of the glitz and glamour of the game with haunting memories of what they went through in the war.  As the reality of being redeployed inches ever closer, the realization slowly starts to sink in that they are lost in America, being celebrated for their heroism but not really understood for their sacrifices, and the war zones of Iraq now feel more like home.

This is the sort of film that deserves more than it got.  It’s well edited, often thrillingly crafted on a scene by scene basis, and frequently moving in its little character moments.  For a war drama that is as much about the sacrifices on the battlefield as it is about the struggle to adjust to life back home, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is an absorbing and sometimes appropriately overwhelming experience.

The Blu-ray also includes deleted scenes as well as the four featurettes Into Battle and Onto the Field: Stepping Inside Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Assembling a Cast, Recreating the Halftime Show and The Brotherhood of Combat.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a Sony Pictures release.  It’s 113 minutes and rated 14A.

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