Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk can't be assessed for what it is without considering what it must have been.
Ang Lee's Iraq War drama is a victim of technology he insisted upon and designed the movie around to show off what's possible, if not necessary. Lee's 3-D cameras filmed 120 frames per second, five times conventional speed, for the highest definition Hollywood ever attempted. Only five theaters in the world reportedly have projectors to show this version.
Most viewers will likely see Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk in 2-D and typical speed, which may actually help the movie, based on reviews that deemed the less conventional method distracting.
But Lee's movie becomes a different sort of distracting, little things the Oscar-winning director allows that steal our attention, underlining the inherent artifice of fiction. Actors hold direct eye contact with the camera too long, too impassively since Lee likes what super high-res exposes in faces. Images linger, not for dramatic impact but to give those few 120 fps viewers time to appreciate details.
We're always aware that Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk was meant to be what it won't be for us. What we do get is a jumble of PTSD character study, and a Bush 43-era satire of war heroism, linked by flashbacks to a fateful battle that made celebrities of Billy and his Bravo Company brothers. They'll join a Thanksgiving Day pro football halftime show with Destiny's Child before returning to Iraq.
Newcomer Joe Alwyn plays Billy, poster boy for an increasingly unpopular war. Something terrible happened over there that reveries will reveal, to little surprise other than Vin Diesel's poignant Zen. Other flashbacks will explain Billy's bond with his sister, Kathryn (Kristen Stewart), who's urging him to do something to also be determined. Billy's being pulled in several directions by his sergeant (Garrett Hedlund, on point), his salty comrades-in-arms, a cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh) in love at first sight and a Hollywood agent (Chris Tucker) cutting a Bravo Company movie deal with the football team's owner (Steve Martin).
These aren't characters as much as talking props, no more important as part of the super high-res scenery than a buffet table feast or halftime fireworks. Even in 2-D, their principles or lack thereof matter less than the panoramas Lee and cinematographer John Toll compose around them.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk won't revolutionize the way we watch movies any more than Peter Jackson's The Hobbit did at 48 roundly rejected frames per second or Quentin Tarantino dragging out 70mm again. It's just another example of technology intruding upon storytelling, that's been happening since kinetoscopes cranked one frame at a time.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.