After his Oscar-winning experimentation in 3D with The Life of Pi, director Ang Lee makes another bold move to beef up film narrative.
Shooting in 120 frames per second, his story of a US army platoon on home leave from Iraq is brought to startling life. Probably too much life.
In fact, such is the clarity of the new frame rate (most films are in 24 fps), you actually feel like you’re really there. Not there in the action, but there while they are making it, like you’re visiting the set. At rehearsal stage.
Something about this format feels unfinished, like they haven’t put the grade on. It isn’t filtered and our eyes simply aren’t accustomed to it. Hence, the lighting, the faces, the dialogue all feel wrong and you can’t stop thinking about it and noticing it for the whole film.
It’s a shame, because there is good stuff in here in the story of Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) who is being honoured for heroism in battle with a big half time bit of razzmatazz at a football game with Destiny’s Child the main act. The disconnect between home and the war is, I guess, supposed to be heightened by the visuals, but the film theory doesn’t work out in practise.
The half time show is contrasted with a reconstruction of the battle in Iraq for which the platoon is being feted, and this is where the new visual format has some success, plunging us into the shocking immediacy of the gun fight.
But the half time show at the stadium remains weirdly un-involving – we only see Destiny’s Child from the back -and the banter between the soldiers never quite zings as it should, mainly because everything looks like it’s a dodgy daytime soap. While Kristen Stewart manages to shine through as Billy’s sister, several other actors struggle in the glare of the ultra high definition: even Steve Martin, as the football team owner interested in financing a movie about the soldiers he’s now hosting, comes over as wooden.
A huge pity when you consider how well Ang Lee can orchestrate ensembles, say, with Sense and Sensibility or The Wedding Banquet or The Ice Storm.
Perhaps one day, this film will be a landmark. But that’s a long walk in the future.