Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (3 stars)

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Ang Lee's experimental, war-themed drama is something of a curio

Ang Lee follows up his Oscar-winning take on Life of Pi with another technically ingenious adaptation, this time tackling Ben Fountain's novel about a US soldier's bitter experiences. Shot using a uniquely high frame rate, Lee's film looks pin-sharp and offers a vivid sense of place and time but is ultimately let down by its unimaginative depiction of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Joe Alwyn makes a strong centre as Billy, a teenage soldier who arrives back at his Texas homeland as part of Bravo Squad after a tour of duty in Iraq. The boys have gained celebrity status due to Billy's acts of heroism under fire, and travel in a stretch limo to a football stadium where they take the stage alongside Destiny's Child as part of the halftime entertainment. Billy's sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) wants him to apply for a discharge, while wannabe agent Albert (Chris Tucker) is trying to sell the squad's story to Hollywood as a film project.

With Vin Diesel as Billy's sergeant appearing in flashback, and Steve Martin as a silver-tongued football mogul, it's clear that Lee is willing to arrange all manner of icons to form his dramatic tableau. And he's partly successful; as Billy mounts the podium surrounded by cheerleaders and fireworks, the film raises pertinent questions about what kind of America Billy was fighting for, with blame directed squarely at the excesses of oil-rich industrialists.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a real curio, an original cinematic effort that uses stadium-sized vistas to depict the small-scale workings of its protagonist's innermost thoughts. It's a genuinely experimental film, intermittently successful despite a punishing lack of depth in the characterisations. Ultimately, the cruel juxtaposition of dark personal angst and glitzy red, white and blue exteriors provides the film's single ideological punch, thrown by Lee in spectacular style.

Selected release from Fri 10 Feb.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ang Lee
  • Cast: Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin
  • UK release: 10 February 2017

Billy (Alwyn) is a teenage soldier who arrives back in Texas after a heroic tour of duty in Iraq, to find that he and his squad are celebrities. It looks pin-sharp, having been shot with a uniquely high frame rate, but despite some strong performances it’s let down by its unimaginative depiction of PTSD.