UP-close and really personal: that’s how this movie will stay in your mind’s eye. But it comes with some discomfort, and all you are left with at the end of the movie, is the question, why did I need to see this in 3D?
The up-close camera efforts makes actors like Steve Martin, playing a Dallas football team owner called Norm Oglesby, speaking earnestly about something forgettable right into the camera. There is no camera cut to who he is talking to, no pan to show the expressions on the rest of the listeners.
His eyes look directly into yours, for a good 5 minutes. The background is flat. Since, you can’t recall exactly what he is saying, after you’ve left the cinema, all you will remember is his skin, his slightly puffy, smallish eyes, and the idea that he is trying not to laugh while being a greedy businessman.
The narrative does have a satirical tone about it. The story comes from a novel on the life of a 19-year-old Iraq War hero, Billy Flynn (played by Brit Joe Alwyn), who has been sent home with his Bravo troop for a media tour around Thanksgiving time back in 2003.
Through flashbacks, mostly during a showy, fireworks-happy half-time event at the Thanksgiving Day football game with Destiny’s Child (and no closeup on Beyonce), we learn what exactly happened to Billy and his team.
It’s Alwyn’s cinema debut in the title role, and he does impress – from his footballer physique and his expressive blue-eyed face to his intensely restrained performance.
But the delivery of the screenplay script, written by Jean-Christophe Castelli, by Billy’s fellow Bravo team feels like a drama club before they take to the stage — not quite ready, but trying to get there.
The action scenes are also oddly out of sync with the weapons exploding around the team. In one scene, the soldiers look like they are waiting for the command — off-screen — to get into the battlefield.
All this sense of staginess is only heightened with Kristen Stewart’s natural performance as Billy’s worried sister who feels he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Other than Alwyn, Vin Diesel has a bittersweet role with ironically humorous lines. Playing Billy’s sergeant called Shrooms (is that a pun?) who will die from enemy warfare, Vin Diesel gets to spout Indian philosophy to Billy and sends his squad into battle with him saying “I love you” to each soldier.
By a third of the movie, you get the satirical slant of the narrative. The soldiers are not really supported by the general public, right down to them being whacked by stadium workers. What is being supported is the virtual reality of troops defending the ideals of the country, but not the soliders themselves.
This movie could have been an Oscar dramatic offering by director Ang Lee of Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi fame. Instead, it may garner accolades for best cinematography, and technical details.
It seems the director was having some fun with state-of-the-art wizardry, and the cinemagoers.
The movie’s best line comes across as a metaphor for Ang Lee’s take on Billy Flynn’s Long Half-time Walk: “If a bullet’s going to get you, it’s already been fired.”