Much like the title character, Ang Lee’s first film since Life of Pi comes with some baggage. A huge flop on its release in the US, low box office number summed up the indifferent reaction from customers as well as critics. It’s easy to see why.
Based on the Ben Fountain novel, the story takes place at the heights of the War in Iraq in the early 2000s. We follow Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), a teenager who is now a national hero thanks to his actions on the battlefield, as he prepares to be presented to a patriotic crowd at a Thanksgiving football game. Lynn and his unit are haunted by their experiences, however, suffering flashbacks that counter the celebratory surroundings.
Lee mixes tones to try and present the story as part drama, part satire of Bush-era blind patriotism. The way heroism is marketed in modern America is worthy subject matter, but the director doesn’t do the story justice. Alwyn’s noble soldier is overwhelmed by his sudden celebrity, but the script never quite makes us believe his struggle.
Caught in the muddle Chris Tucker giving a rare serious performance as a film producer trying to tell their story, and Steve Martin in a brief part as the opportunistic football team owner. One of many missed opportunities is Vin Diesel’s Sergeant, shown only in flashback but reduced to mawkish one liners.
A lot has been made of the distracting high frame rate the film was shot in – a bit of a moot point here as few cinemas in the UK have the technology to show it that way. Stripped of the tech wizardry, it’s an awkward moral maze with a lot to show but very little to say.