‘Billy Lynn’ an Aimless, Disappointing Misfire

billy_lynns_long_halftime_walk_posterAnd 2016 just keeps stabbing me in the heart…

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” stars newcomer Joe Alwyn as the title character, a 19-year-old Iraq veteran who is going around the country with his eight-man company (led by Garrett Hedlund) after a video of them during a mission goes viral. Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin and Chris Tucker also star as Ang Lee directs.

I was very excited for this one; ecstatic, even. The trailer was nothing short of phenomenal and upon seeing it I thought this film was bound to be a masterpiece and perhaps Steve Martin would finally get an Oscar nomination. But all those hopes and dreams seem like a distant past as it turns out “Billy Lynn” is a horribly aimless misfire from a director who is used to setting the bar so high.

I’ll start with what’s good about the film, although frankly there isn’t much of it. Pretty much every actor here ranges from solid enough to good, with Hedlund sticking out. His David Dime is the leader of Lynn’s squad and he can go from darkly humorous to struggling to contain frustration in a matter of seconds. As for Steve Martin, he’s far from Oscar-material playing the owner of the “not Dallas Cowboys.” Sporting a very faux Texas accent, Martin’s character really exists only to serve a few side plot points and exemplify the kind of indulgent America that takes what soldiers do for granted. As the titular character Alwyn is pretty good, with some scenes of genuine tears and emotion. He may not be a star in the making, but I do look forward to seeing him in future films.

And that’ll segue me into, well, everything else. Lee knows how to get the best out of actors; he got three acting Oscar nods from “Brokeback Mountain” alone. But here, while the individual performances are fine, the way some characters interact are awkward. Billy and his sister (Kristen Stewart, as blah but fine as ever) have this uncomfortable tension between them, and Vin Diesel does nothing but spew out spiritual Buddhist quotes and tell each of the soldiers that he loves them.

Then there are the technical aspects of the film. All too often the actors will be carrying on a conversation and will speak right into the camera. It could be argued that this is to put us in Billy’s shoes, however Lee implements this when Billy isn’t being talked to or at, so all we get is a close up of Steve Martin’s 71-year-old face looking right at us. The film is also edited awkwardly, which doesn’t help the fact that the script, while offering a few good lines of dialogue, is mostly aimless and the narrative is really all over the place yet simultaneously nowhere.

There’s not much more to say about “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” other than it is a massive disappointment. The title walk itself is a bit tense and makes you as confused and frustrated as the soldiers it is supposed to be honoring, but that alone isn’t enough to recommend this film. I really don’t know how Lee allowed so many things to go wrong here and hope that his next effort returns him to glory because this may be a career low; and he directed 2003’s “Hulk.”

Critics Rating: 4/10

TriStar Pictures

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