"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" is a disappointing failure from Ang Lee

** (R)

There's Ang Lee's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" coming out this Friday. Lee's film is an underwhelming war movie, but ambitious in its scope. It tries to not only look at the battleground, especially a tense, terrific action sequence in Iraq, but also the post-traumatic anxiety the soldiers face when returning home. The film was shot in a higher frame rate per second than we are accustomed to, but it does the film a disservice instead of intensifying the reality of the drama being portrayed on the screen. Call it an ambitious failure for its lack of focus in key moments.

What I loved about Lee's previous films (especially "The Ice Storm") was how subtle and nuanced they were. It seems like in his last three pictures ("Taking Woodstock," "Life of Pi" and now "Billy Lynn") Lee has opted for a more head-on approach in telling a story. The question we must now ask ourselves is has he lost his ability to circumvent his way around formula to find deeper meaning in the smallest of details? Because that's what made him so great, but lately there's nothing there in the there with his frames. Sure, I liked "Life of Pi," but subtlety is not its strong point, instead that film relied on wildly groundbreaking imagery. There's a lack of focus that comes with his last few films, Lee seems to be all over the map in "Billy Lynn" not really sure what he wants his movie to be about. What is the bigger picture? What does all of it entail to being? 

The film also gives in to sentimentality that is uncommon for Lee. The final scene is both explicit in its touchy feeliness and decidedly uninspiring. It doesn't feel earned by that point. The lack of a compelling narrative structure is something that Lee must have struggled with during production or at least it shows onscreen. Don't get me wrong the film does work for some time, but once you realize that it won't get any better from there you can't help, but become disappointed and restless about the whole thing.

As for the technology, it doesn't work. Lee decided to shoot the film at 120 frames per second in 3D at 4K HD resolution which Lee has termed the "Whole Shebang". It is the very first feature film ever to be shot in such a high frame rate and is five times the standard speed of 24 fps. If his groundbreaking use of 3D in "Life of Pi" was cause enough to have our expectations piqued for "Billy Lynn," the film ends up being a victim of its technological breakthrough. At times, it feels like a staged gimmick and never fully absorbing. It's as if you can see the actors acting instead of embodying their characters.