review roundup

Critics Do Battle With Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Its Incredibly High Frame Rate

Director Ang Lee’s latest film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, adapted from the 2012 Ben Fountain novel of the same name, tracks the journey of a young soldier (played by Joe Alwyn) struggling to reconcile his wartime experiences with the cheery jingoism he encounters at home while attending, you guessed it, a Thanksgiving Day halftime show. It was also shot with 4k HD cameras in 3D at a remarkably high frame rate of 120 frames-per-second. Premiering last night at the New York Film Festival, critics are now grappling with the particular “hyperreal” look of the film, a visual experience that apparently gives both clarity and immediacy to the film’s battlefield scenes, and an odd stiltedness to everyday life. (And that’s not even getting into their thoughts about poor Steve Martin’s face.) Read a selection of review excerpts about the film’s technologically advanced visuals below:

“How does the movie look? Given that few theaters are equipped to screen it in the intended format, that question won’t matter much. But on the screen specially installed for NYFF, to these eyes at least, it has the somewhat alienating hyperreal sharpness of many outsize hi-definition flatscreen TVs. The edges are crystalline and the tight closeups — of which Lee and cinematographer John Toll make extensive use throughout — are unusually penetrating. But I found that the technical innovations took me out of the drama just as often as they pulled me in. It has to be said, also, that the format is much kinder on young actors than their seasoned colleagues. Sorry, Steve Martin.” — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

“Newcomer Joe Alwyn, as the battle scarred war hero, practically bleeds off the screen. The way that tears stream down his face at the sound of the National Anthem will remain seared into my mind. You feel, in that instant, what Lynn must be experiencing as he reflects on the horror of battle, is moved by the patriotic ballad, and is disquieted by the indulgence around him at a pro-football game. His bloodshot eyes contain multitudes. But there are other moments where the format exposes the artifice of the acting. When Billy’s fellow soldiers slap each other on the back, laugh at one another’s jokes or reach for that bottle of Jack, their movements feel overly choreographed. Their schtick is more schtick-y. It’s like watching a high school play.”
—  Brent Lang, Variety

“At its core, Billy Lynn simply focuses on its leading man’s divided allegiances as he faces postwar trauma and gets lauded as a hero; well-acted and sustained by a smart, if at times jagged screenplay, it might work just fine on the stage. But the filmmaker’s decision to shoot the entire movie with the ambitious trifecta of 3D, 4k resolution and 120 frames-per-second technology produces hyperreal images out of whack with the routine events that dominate the screen. With one exception — the titular walk, a dazzling football halftime show that brings the character’s conflict to the foreground — Billy Lynn barely looks more impressive than the possibilities offered by a high-end television. Whatever the creative possibilities of new digital cameras, this effort never fully makes its case.” — Eric Kohn, IndieWire

“It’s an interesting concept to use an even faster frame rate for a film that exists in a real setting, with the idea that emotions should feel more genuine and the story more involving. But the irony is that the novelty of the technique ultimately makes the film feel like even more of a construct. The intimacy of certain scenes feels invaded, and it’s a struggle to feel emotional involvement within the flashy technique. It’s a curious, often lifeless film that has something to say and at times, almost makes a point or two, but too often it meanders awkwardly and Lee’s decision to shoot it in this way only serves to show up the inadequacies even more. Any false note, and there are quite a few from a cast of newcomers, is amplified and when a note doesn’t ring true, it falls with a thud, harder than usual.” — Benjamin Lee, The Guardian

“In most of the scenes in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a figure will stand in the foreground of the frame and the background will be out of focus, and the foregrounded figure is so super-clear that they look like a cut-out with scissors from a glossy magazine. There have been some outstanding examples in recent years of what can be accomplished with immersive 3D imagery, but the extra-clarity 3D in this Lee movie often looks weirdly like something shot on videotape in the 1980s.” — Dan Callahan, The Wrap

Billy Lynn has its moments, but its critical and unexpected folly is that the cutting-edge technology diminishes the picture emotionally, its ungainly look trivializes the drama and indulges it with an undesirable air of superficiality. Lee’s clearly going for a hyper-realness with these images, but it undermines the drama and the few beats of moving honesty about who we are, duty and sacrifice. Ang Lee is undoubtedly a visionary filmmaker, but the distracting unpleasantness of his movie’s highly attuned visual clarity, makes for an undiscerning and artificial experience the eye just won’t follow.” — Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

Critics Battle Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn Frame Rate