Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (5 Stars)

Many people compare this film with "Catch 22". I find it has more similarity with "Apocalypse Now", even though only 20% takes place in Iraq and the rest in America. However, the best way to understand it is to see it as a contrast to Ang Lee's previous film, "The Life of Pi". In "The Life of Pi" we see a young man travelling alone and wishing he had company. In "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" we see a young man surrounded by a crowd and wishing he were alone.

To start off, let's shorten the film's name to "Billy Lynn". That's less of a mouthful.

The film takes place on a single day, Thanksgiving 2004. Throughout the film we see flashbacks of the events in Billy Lynn's life that have led up to this day. He's a 19-year-old specialist fighting in Iraq. He was filmed running to pull his sergeant to safety, making him a national hero. Now he and his unit, nicknamed the Bravo Squad, have been touring the USA for a week from one press conference to another. The final day is a football game of the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, in which they have to present themselves to the audience at half time. After the game they're going to be flown back to Iraq.

I expected this to be an anti-war film. It isn't. It treats the whole subject of the Iraq war very neutrally, not making statements about whether it was justified or not. It's all about Billy and his reaction to the pressure of being called a hero.

Billy is practically in a daze, sleep-walking through the day. His sister is putting pressure on him to quit the armed forces by faking PTSD. There's a film producer trying to make a deal to make a film about Billy and the Bravo Squad. The owner of the Dallas Cowboys speaks to him. A billionaire oil tycoon speaks to him. Countless fans swarm around him praising him as a hero. There are aggressive security guards at the stadium who don't take the soldiers seriously. Billy is expected to stand on stage while Destiny's Child performs.

All that Billy is interested in is girls. He's still a virgin, and he doesn't want to die a virgin. He links up with a Dallas cheerleader, a dream come true for any teenage boy. Or so you would think. There's no time for more than a kiss. She talks to Billy about Christianity, which is the last thing on his mind. She promises to wait for him until he returns from Iraq, but until then she wants him to continue being a hero. More pressure.

"Billy Lynn" is an amazing film. Some people have criticised it by saying that nothing happens. Why does something need to happen? That's not what the film is about. It's all about Billy's dream-like state. It's about the irony of Iraq being Billy's home, not America. "Billy Lynn" doesn't need action, it's perfect as it is. It's the best film I've seen so far this year.

On a technical note, "Billy Lynn" is the first film ever made with a resolution of 120 frames per second. The frame rate 24 fps has been the standard for over 100 years, ever since films were first made. It wasn't until 2012 that a higher resolution film was made, "The Hobbit", with 48 fps. The two sequels were also made with this resolution in 2013 and 2014, but so far these are the only three films. Not everyone has been able to experience this advance, because very few cinemas are equipped with projectors for this resolution (for instance, only one cinema in Birmingham). Almost all cinemas showed a 24 fps version of the Hobbit films. James Cameron has promised that the sequel to "Avatar" will be filmed in 60 fps, presumably because he intended to make the technologically most advanced film ever, but he's too late; "Billy Lynn" has already set the bar higher.

Can the frame rate go any higher? Theoretically it can, but there's no point. The average human eye is capable of processing 110 frames per second, so there's no reason to film any higher. 120 fps is perfection. Every single frame of the film is a perfect screenshot, without any blur... providing that you have a Blu-ray player capable of playing films with this resolution. Until now there aren't even Blu-ray players capable of playing films at 48 fps. It hasn't been necessary for manufacturers to invest in the technology, since only three films were ever made at that resolution.

120 frames per second is the future of cinema, but please don't hold your breath until you have it on your television screen.

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