Posted Feb 10 2017
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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - This Ang Lee Movie Rocks - For The Most Part

Dir: Ang Lee

Starring Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker

Many moons ago, one of us here at LastWord Towers was asked by a PR person to spend an hour locked in a room with Ang Lee. The occasion was the release of The Wedding Banquet, an absolutely delightful movie but – at the time – one which was having a hard time finding traction amongst the film journo world. We got an hour because, basically, there weren’t that many others that were bothered and the PR didn’t want to look bad in front of her “client” Mr Lee.

As it turns out we spent a delightful hour, not just talking about his movie but about so much more – from individual customs to shared experiences and beyond. He was wonderful company – we hope we weren’t far off.

A couple of years later, we were thrust into Mr Lee’s orbit once more when he had turned his hand to that most English of subjects, Jane Austin, with his and Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility. He very kindly greeted us like an old friend and we were once again away to the races.

We knew from the first meeting – and his early movies – that Ang Lee was destined for great things. And now with the man being one of the few filmmakers to boast two Best Director Oscars, well, we’re not one to say we told you so. But…

All of which leads us to the paradox that is his latest. Having helped redefine all that could be done with CGI in Life of Pi, Billy Lynn was presented initially more as a technical  achievement than it was a movie. Shot is some sort of revolutionary 8 million frames a second in 98K 84-D or something – we’re not strong on the tech side. Either way, when it came to us seeing it, we were more than a little surprised to find ourselves the night before we were due to watch it on the big screen (and it deserves to be seen on a big screen) being offered a BAFTA-friendly option of watching it as a laptop download. From very probably the most technically advanced piece of cinema to date – to a MacBook near you, even before it’s been released in most territories? Surely there’s a flaw in that plan.

We opted for the big screen presentation – and are glad we did, because Lee’s latest is a film that reminds you of the power of story telling. And one that reaches beyond the technical aspects that seem to have clouded its initial presentation.

Based on Ben Fountain’s novel, this is, very simply, the tale of a group of Iraq war veterans about to be hailed for their bravery during a halftime football show in their native Texas. But as that moment draws nearer, the film mixes it narrative with the events that have brought them to this point, and the family affairs they have come home to re-engage with. It’s a simple structure, but one that Lee plays with brilliantly, illuminating events from both sides.

It will ultimately fail to engage Oscar voters (and seems to have been initially dismissed overall by some critics) for its lack of big moments. But it finds real strength in its small moments, and its performances. Newcomer Alwyn is in star-making form here, Kristen Stewart continues to – literally – get better with every movie she makes, Steve Martin brings a previously unseen Machiavellian quality to his work, and even Vin Diesel gets marks for trying. As does Garrett Hedlund who is on really strong form here.

It kind of falls apart in its third act, after the halftime, when too much emphasis is placed on Chris Tucker and his movie deal shenanigans. But for most of its pre halftime build up, Ang Lee’s Billy delivers the goods. You know, like he often does.

 

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