There’s a certain conditioning us cinema buffs undergo throughout our movie watching life – we get used to the ‘movie’ aesthetic where things on the screen are supposed to look ‘artsy’. Whether it’s grain or strobes or even motion blur, there’s a particular look one expects from any movie we see. Without that painterly effect a movie looks like a low budget documentary filmed with cheap cameras. Peter Jackson failed in his experiment when he debuted the first Hobbit movie which was shot in 60fps as opposed to regular 30fps films. The film looked terrible to say the least, and undid most of the hard work put on the sets.
With Billy Lyn’s Long Halftime Walk Ang Lee now attempts a film shot in 120fps, and unfortunately the results are pretty much the same. Even though the film hasn’t released in the 120fps format in India you can’t ignore the ‘home movie’ look and feel. The pans and transitions are super smooth and watching hyper realistic textures on the screen is a really odd experience. Perhaps the film would look better in the format it is intended to be seen in, but there’s no avoiding the fact that it seems like a failed experiment.
More than the technology it’s the story that doesn’t quite capture your imagination. We follow an Iraq war hero named William Lynn (Joe Alwyn) who is captured on camera trying to rescue a comrade (Vin Diesel) at the war front. The footage turns him into a war hero of sorts and is given the opportunity to be felicitated during the half time break of a Thanksgiving football game. Lynn is still traumatized by the events that transpired and is facing the full effects of war based PTSD.
The thing with this plot is that if you’ve seen half a dozen films about the Iraq war you won’t find anything particularly new or unique to gauge from this movie. The narrative jumps from the never ending buildup to the halftime walk to the horrors of war to a boring subplot between Lynn and his sister (Kristen Stewart) who keeps advising him to visit a shrink.
None of those plot threads are particularly engaging, not only because they seem trite and clichéd but also because there is little transfer of genuine emotion from the screen onto the audience. Even though you understand what Lynn is going through there is an odd stiffness in the rest of the storyline that doesn’t make you care that much about what is going on. There have been way better films about a war ravaged soldier grappling with identity crisis and Ang Lee doesn’t reproduce any of the soul from his earlier work. The back and forth narrative treatment also seems saturated because of Clint Eastwood’s Sully which we saw a moth ago and did a mildly better job.
One of the brighter spots in the film is the central performance from Alwyn, who in his debut role exudes consistent nervous energy and empathy. It’s a surprise to discover that he’s actually British considering his Texan accent is quite convincing. It would be interesting to see where his career goes from here since he’s got the personality to take any kind of role.