An uncertain hero

Joe Alwyn (far left) and Vin Diesel in Lee Ang's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.
Joe Alwyn (left) and Vin Diesel in Lee Ang's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.PHOTO: A REALLY HAPPY FILM



112 minutes/Opens today/2.5 stars

The story: Specialist Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) rushes to the aid of sergeant Shroom (Vin Diesel) under a flurry of Iraqi fire and is hailed as a hero. Shipped back to America, he goes on a celebratory media tour with his Bravo squad mates, including the no-nonsense sergeant Dime (Garrett Hedlund). The tour ends with them taking part in an over-the-top half-time show at an American football game. Based on American novelist Ben Fountain's 2012 novel of the same name.

Much of the buzz surrounding feted director Lee Ang's new film is for its groundbreaking format of a high frame rate of 120 frames per second, 4K resolution and in 3D.

Unfortunately - or fortunately - audiences here will get to see only the regular version, which is in 2D and at 24 frames per second.

So its success boils down to the film itself, shorn of its high-tech coat.

There is much going on thematically, including an exploration of courage, the idea of patriotism and the tendency for the media to over-simplify things.

Billy remarks that he is being honoured for the worst day of his life, but no one seems to care. Indeed, he seems to be sucked into a situation in which almost everything is out of his hands. Up to the moment it happens, no one in Bravo squad knows what it is that they are supposed to be doing for the half-time show.

At the same time, this is also a meta-movie about the movie industry. Quick-talking Albert (Chris Tucker) is the guy trying to make a film deal for the Bravos and his comments often undermine what is happening in Billy Lynn the movie.

He says that "there's always a girl" - and sure enough, there is a cheerleader, Faison (Makenzie Leigh), who catches Billy's eye. And after a confrontation between Billy and the slick businessman Norm Oglesby (Steve Martin), Albert remarks that "that's what we call a real movie moment".

In other respects, Lee does not make it an easy watch by doing away almost completely with a music score until the very end. There are also too many close-ups, making the film feel static.

It is a pity because the issues examined here are pertinent, bolstered by a solid cast - newcomer Alwyn, soldiering on in the maelstrom of the celebrity machine; Kristen Stewart as his concerned sister; and Vin Diesel as a zenmaster-like sergeant.

Hedlund is a standout, making the cliched tough-on-the-outside- caring-underneath Dime totally believable.

While Billy Lynn does not quite come together compellingly, you cannot fault Lee for having an ambitious vision and trying his darnedest to realise it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline 'An uncertain hero'. Subscribe