Two-time Academy Award® winner Ang Lee brings his extraordinary vision to Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, based on the widely-acclaimed, bestselling novel. The film is told from the point of view of 19-year-old private Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, the film reveals what really happened to the squad - contrasting the realities of the war with America's perceptions. The film also stars Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, with Vin Diesel, and Steve Martin.
Most viewers are going to feel every step of 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' – and not in a good way. This examination of the affect and purpose of war (and based on Ben Fountain's novel of the same name) is a movie that unfortunately is going to be remembered for the experimental way in which it was shot, rather than for its story or acting. That's a shame, since Director Ang Lee is usually pretty good at these sort of on-screen explorations of emotion (his Life of Pi remains one of my favorite movies of 2013). But Lee has really no one to blame but himself. This movie seems clearly the result of a filmmaker who became so obsessed with the way he was going to tell a story that he forgot about the necessary basics. For all the ways it tries to visually "wow" the audience, the movie lacks an engaging screenplay and – surprisingly – good direction. It's Lee's worst movie since The Hulk.
The plot of the movie is so simple, that it almost spoils the entire film just to describe it here. Young Army soldier Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) has returned from a tour of duty in Iraq where he's gained national notoriety after his bold rescue attempt of Sgt. "Shroom" Breem (Vin Diesel) was captured on video. He and the other young members of his combat team (including their lead officer, Sgt. Dime (Garrett Hedlund)) have been asked to be part of a salute to the troops at the halftime show of a Texas professional football team on Thanksgiving Day (it's a fictional team in the movie, although it was the Dallas Cowboys in the original novel). While there, Billy ponders what has happened to him in combat so far, as well as the possibility of not going back by claiming he suffers from PTSD (something his sister – played by Kristen Stewart – is begging him to do).
Silly subplots abound, starting with one that runs the length of the movie involving a movie producer (Chris Tucker – one of the few actors who does a convincing job here) trying to get a deal to turn Billy and his fellow soldiers' story into a feature film. Steve Martin (less convincing) plays the Jerry Jones-like owner of the football team who is interested in the project – but wants to lowball the amount he pays to the soldiers to obtain the rights to their story. Even more silly is a romance between Billy Lynn and one of the team's cheerleaders (played by Makenzie Leigh), who meets, makes out with, and falls in love with Billy all in the span of a few hours.
For its theatrical presentation, Lee had the movie shot at a high frame rate, 120 fps, which is somewhat recreated for the 60fps rate of the 4K Ultra HD version of this release, but not for the standard Blu-ray version. Lee's concept was to provide a very intimate, "realistic" image for the audience that would supposedly allow each viewer to feel like he or she was right there alongside Billy during the course of this movie. Additionally, most of the exchanges in the film are close-up shots of the actors either looking directly into the camera or slightly off it during their dialogue delivery. I didn't see this film in the theater (where the 120 fps also included 3D in many theaters; a 3D version is also available but only as part of the 4K release and without the high frame rate), but the effect doesn't work all that effectively at home. Sure, the 60fps image (assuming you go with the 4K disc) wows in its clarity, but also doesn't look very much like a movie...it feels more like an interactive video game at times.
Once you get past the unique methods Ang Lee used here, most will realize that 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' doesn't have a whole lot more to offer. While I'm not totally sold on the high frame rate method, I think it could work well with the right movie (a title like Hardcore Henry being shot in this method might be appealing). Sadly, the story here never lives up to the technical process.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' strolls onto home video in this Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack. The 50GB disc is housed inside a keepcase along with an insert containing a code for a digital copy of the movie. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for Inferno, The Magnificent Seven, Passengers, Underworld: Blood Wars, and the animated 'Resident Evil: Vendetta'. The main menu consists of a still photo of Billy Lynn in uniform leaning up against the wall, with his shadow showing the image of him in action as a solider. Menu selections are across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
While there's nothing technically wrong with the video presentation here – aside from a bit of aliasing that exists in all of the available home video versions of this title – the image really pales in comparison to both the other versions that are available on the 4K Ultra HD release of this movie, which contains both a 4k/60fps rendering of the movie and a separate 1080p 3D version (why the 3D version isn't also part of this release is anyone's guess, aside from a ploy by the studio to get buyers to consider investing in 4K - odd, since many 4K sets these days don't even support 3D).
Judging by what we do get though, the image is about what you'd expect in a high-def release, and since it's taken from a pretty good source (a 4K digital intermediate that's obviously downgraded to 1080p here), viewers who can only see this version of the movie due to their home theater setups should have no major complaints, although I feel it's probably important to emphasize that there's no real reason to see 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' without the high frame rate experience.
My opinion about the audio in this release – an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track – sort of mirrors my feelings about the video. There's nothing technically wrong with what is provided with this lossless audio, but experiencing the Dolby Atmos track that is only available on the 4K Ultra HD release is a much better option, should it be available to you.
With the above in mind, there were no apparent glitches in the track, but aside from the actual halftime show in the movie (which flashes back and forth between the performance and a firefight the main character was involved in and provides some fun aural activity), there's not a whole lot audio-wise happening during the movie. But that, of course, has to do with the source material and not any problems with the audio here, which is well-rendered.
In addition to the 5.1 track, an English Descriptive Audio track is also available, as are subtitles in English, English SDH, and Spanish.
'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' seems very much like a situation where a talented director got so caught up in the visual process he was providing for his movie that he forgot to tell a really good story. This is also one of those rare situations where only the 4K Ultra HD release (which is the only release with both high frame rate and 3D versions) is worth bothering with. Consider this standard 2D Blu-ray safely skippable.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.