Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

(On Cable TV, June 2017) Much of the online chatter about Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk had to do with its 3D 120 fps 4K UHD presentation in a handful of high-end theatres, but that’s completely irrelevant to the experience of seeing it on regular HD cable TV. Stripped from its technological innovations, the film becomes something far more ordinary: Yet another drama about veterans coming back home and having trouble coping with the nature of American society. It’s not a bad subject, but it has been overplayed lately, and Ang Lee’s latest film doesn’t do much to bring something narratively new to the table. Oh, it’s skillfully made: Setting much of the story at a Dallas football game, arguably the purest essence of basic Americana, is good for a few uncomfortable parallels with what soldiers are being asked to do abroad. Weaving in motifs of Hollywood dramatization, religion-obsessed cheerleaders, excessive eating and overblown fireworks all serve to heighten the unreality of “coming back home”. Still, there aren’t that many surprises in store. It’s nearly a given that whatever heroic sacrifice performed by the soldiers will prove to be far more gruesome in the flashbacks. There’s a blip of interest at the very end, when a decision made by the lead character is portrayed as continuing the horror rather than further serving the country. But otherwise, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is thin gruel. Well-made gruel, though: Ang Lee remains a veteran director, and perhaps the most interesting thing about the result is how he’s able to coax good performances out of Kristen Stewart (in her best damaged-by-life mode), Steve Martin (as a loathsome millionaire) and Chris Tucker (looking much older now). Still, the lack of impact of the movie as shown at home is enough to make anyone ponder the worth of technological innovations if they can’t be as effective under all viewing conditions.

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