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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

The most arresting moment in Ang Lee’s Hollywood filmography is the shot of Heath Ledger silhouetted against 4 July reworks in Brokeback Mountain, a complex tableau of patriotism and masculinity shot from a reverent low-angle perspective. That prodigious image finds an extended rhyme in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, as the eponymous infantryman (Joe Alwyn) stands stock-still on stage at a Dallas football stadium amid a riot of carefully stage-managed red, white and blue pyrotechnics. They are meant as a ‘Mission Accomplished’ tribute, but serve only to make native terrain feel more alienating to a homecoming soldier. The broad satire and critique of American spectacle and exceptionalism is derived from Ben Fountain’s 2012 source novel, while the visual aplomb belongs to Lee. As with his film versions of source texts as varied as ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Hulk’ and ‘Life of Pi’, the director has done his best to locate a cinematic language that serves the material. The by-now infamous decision to shoot the production on digital video at a turbo-charged frame rate must be addressed right off the bat, because it transforms what might otherwise have seemed like a standard-issue prestige picture into a genuine oddity: as the opening credits unfold over images of Silver Star-winner Lynn and his fellow Bravo company soldiers being herded into a stretch Hummer en route to their arena-sized tribute, some viewers may feel like they’re watching a soap opera on their parents’ out-of-the-box and as-yet uncalibrated at screen television set. Lee has always been interested in the tension between traditionalism and modernity, and while some will surely judge him a casualty of his own technocratic aestheticism, the sheer strangeness of seeing local and foreign environments in super-high-def 3D clarity counts as a stylistic coup. It’s also apropos thematically insofar as Fountain’s novel is about its protagonist’s disorientation, which keeps flinging him mentally ...