Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a small film burdened with the epic, thanks to both its subject and its setting. Based on Ben Fountain's 2012 novel, it depicts a day in the life of a young soldier (Joe Alwyn) briefly returning from Iraq to be honored with his squad during a Thanksgiving Day NFL halftime performance by Destiny's Child. As he flashes back to his time in combat, our hero is torn between horror at what he'll soon return to and his dedication to his fellow soldiers.
Billy's memories of the war are not just flashes: The heroism he's being recognized for involves his killing an Iraqi insurgent. "It is sort of weird," Billy remarks, "being honored for the worst day of your life." So, in a relatively brief amount of time, director Ang Lee has to use these recollections to place us in the reality of war, achieving both intimacy and immersion, scale and substance.
The director has chosen a technological solution to this problem. Billy Lynn was shot utilizing a new high frame rate (HFR) system, at 120 frames per second (as opposed to standard cinema's 24 frames per second). It's a disaster. This is that "video effect" that gives some high-definition images the textural quality of a daytime soap opera. There's a stylized artificiality to film acting, to cinematic dialogue, and in that stark reality, every line seems overwritten, every performance stilted. I later saw it projected at the movies' traditional speed: In 120 frames a second, both Alwyn and Kristen Stewart came off as hopelessly stilted; at 24 frames, they breathe with life.