Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk has served as one of the more intriguing cinematic offerings of the year. The two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker’s take on Ben Fountain’s satirically-bent take on an American soldier on a victory tour back home has also been one of the year’s biggest question marks because of Lee’s unorthodox methods of shaping the story for the silver screen. Utilizing not just 3-D (as Lee did in his Oscar-winning Life of Pi) but also the unprecedented frame rate of 120 frames-per-second, Billy Lynn looks to shatter technological barriers.
The New York Film Festival held the world premiere of the eagerly anticipated title. In the film, the title character (played by British newcomer Joe Alwyn) returns home from a tour in Iraq, who along with his fellow Bravo Squad soldiers, is celebrated and branded a hero during a lavish football halftime show. During this excitement, flashbacks tell the story of what really happened the squad presenting contrasting ideals of American patriotism. The ensemble cast includes Kristen Stewart (Certain Women), Vin Diesel (Guardians of the Galaxy), Garrett Hedlund (Inside Llewyn Davis), Steve Martin (Bowfinger) and Chris Tucker (Silver Linings Playbook). Jean-Christophe Castelli (Life of Pi) penned the screenplay.
The early word of the film is starting to break out. The consensus, for those lucky enough to attend, appears to be that there’s no consensus, at least not yet. Early reviews and snapshots shared on social media, on first glance, appears all over the place. David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter called the film, “A ruminative homefront war movie that’s more absorbing than explosive,” while Rodrigo Perez from The Playlist wrote, “Ang Lee is undoubtedly a visionary filmmaker, but the distracting unpleasantness of his movie’s highly attuned visual clarity, makes for an undiscerning and artificial experience the eye just won’t follow.” Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman opined, “There’s a grand paradox at work in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The film isn’t simply a technological experiment; it’s also a highly original, heartfelt, and powerful story.
— Clayton Davis (@AwardsCircuit) October 15, 2016
— Steven Zeitchik (@ZeitchikLAT) October 15, 2016
Whole movie feels curiously stilted, as if everyone were acting from inside delineated boundaries. Interesting experiment, but am not sold.
— Alison Willmore (@alisonwillmore) October 15, 2016
God bless Ang Lee for trying, but 120fps feels like fast-forward. the hyper-reality highlights artifice. myth of total cinema strikes again.
— david ehrlich (@davidehrlich) October 15, 2016
Officially NOT a fan of high frame rate, folks
— Richard Lawson (@rilaws) October 15, 2016
While consensus may be a little all over the place (which may put the film’s awards chances into question), there’s a larger dilemma in store for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk in that very few theaters domestically and around the world are fully equipped to screen the movie the way Lee and his filmmaking team intended it to be seen. It’s estimated that only a dozen or so theaters nationally will fully be able to present the film in all its 4K, 3-D and 120 frames-per-second glory, which may leave audiences (and Sony Pictures, the film’s distributor in quite a pickle) as various versions of the movie will be showcased in local theaters. As of now, The Hollywood Reporter states “They include 120 fps in 2D and 60 fps in 3D as well as today’s current standard of 24fps. Billy Lynn is also getting a Dolby Cinema release, with two high dynamic range versions that can accommodate 2D and 3D, with up to 120fps in 2K resolution. Lee and his team have been working at his specially equipped postproduction facility in the Chelsea section of New York to create the best possible versions of each of the formats, derived from the 4K, 3D, 120fps master.”
We can all judge for ourselves, one way or another, when Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk opens in theaters on November 11th.