Thursday, May 12, 2016

The First Trailer for "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" Brings Ang Lee Back in Top Form

Scene from Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
It has been quite awhile since we last heard from director Ang Lee. In 2012, he brought the world the dazzling, Oscar-winning Life of Pi. It was a film that not only revolutionized CG characters, but managed to bring spiritual themes to blockbuster entertainment in accessible ways. Lee has always been an adventurous director by choosing to tackle any and all genres and taboo subjects that he deems worthy. With his latest Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk, he returns after four years with a trailer that promises a different take on war veterans. While labeled a comedy first and foremost, the general vibes of the first trailer are of the familiar, haunting trauma that one faces in time of war - and it looks exciting nonetheless.

In terms of American cinema, there are few Asian directors whose artistry has been as compelling and striking as Lee. The fact that he has a career that spanned from Sense and Sensibility to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Hulk to Brokeback Mountain to Life of Pi shows an astounding range. Of course, it's also reflective of a director who is actually passionate about his work and not what others think, adding a certain mystery to each new project that he signs on to. To be totally honest, Life of Pi over the past few years has become a personal favorite, so whatever he was to do next was always going to intrigue me. Thankfully, the mere cast list has plenty of curiosity about it.

For a man who is primed to have another Oscar contender on his hands, he does have a very strange cast. With newcomer Joe Alwyn as the titular Billy Lynn, he leads a cast that includes Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Chris Tucker, and Steve Martin. This isn't to say that they can give Oscar-caliber work, but most of them are at best unexpected. With the film also being touted as the first film to be shot at 120 frame rate, there's a lot riding on this film's potential. The better question is how Lee plans to make a contemporary war film in a time where American Sniper culturally divides and patriotism is at odds with itself. While that answer will come in November, the first trailer gives some sighs of relief.

Check out the trailer below:

I have to say, I think it looks really good and gives me hope for this year's awards season already. Here's the plot according to IMDb:
19-year-old Billy Lynn is brought home for a victory tour after a harrowing Iraq battle. Through flashbacks the film shows what really happened to his squad - contrasting the realities of war with America's perceptions.
To its credit, the trailer does an effective job of introducing this. The battle scenes look harrowing, and the mystery surrounding Billy Lynn's actions are definitely a strong selling point. However, there's still a curious reality. According to IMDb and other sources, the film is listed first as a comedy. The novel by Ben Fountain that it was adapted from has even been called "The 'Catch 22' of the Iraq War." To summarize, "Catch 22" is a war story, but also one that is satirical and highly comical with characters named like Maj. Major Major. In this regards, the trailer does a poor job of selling it for what it could be, which is more in line with the rambunctious Jarhead than the bleak Brothers

However, the idea of a war comedy from a director as expertly skilled as Lee is definitely worth keeping an eye on. It is too early to really lobby any Oscar prognostication on anyone, though hopefully the film's impact does result in something. For now, I am glad to say that the teaser trailer has done its job, and now I cannot wait for November to roll around. If nothing else, I want to see how the tone will be balanced and if the strongly comedic cast can make the material work. I may take issue with its presentation of a "comedy" as high drama, but that's just my naive first impression. Here's hoping that there's so much more to discover.

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