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CinemaCon: ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ Could Bring Ang Lee Back to the Oscar Table

Sony chairman Tom Rothman is still looking for an awards season home run in his tenure at the studio.

Ang Lee
Jim Smeal/BEI/REX/Shutterstock

LAS VEGAS — Since coming to the studio in 2013, Sony Pictures chairman (formerly TriStar Productions chairman) Tom Rothman hasn’t landed a film in the sweet spot of awards season yet. “The Walk” was a box office failure that couldn’t make it to the dance last year, while Will Smith starrer “Concussion” (inherited from former chair Amy Pascal’s tenure) couldn’t perform during the holiday season or secure notice from the Academy.

That could change with “Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk,” Ang Lee’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning 2012 drama “Life of Pi.” Notably, Rothman stood on the Colosseum stage at Caesar’s Palace here four years ago to debut footage from “Life of Pi” when he was still serving as chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment. Back again in a “different uniform,” as he put it, he kicked off this year’s presentation of Sony’s robust slate with a look at Lee’s latest.

The film, financed by Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8, is based on Ben Fountain’s celebrated 2012 novel, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction that year. It tells the story of an Iraq veteran wrangling with disenchantment while being hailed a war hero. Rothman called it “familiar, but powerful,” not unlike “Life of Pi,” he said.

Situating it in the tradition of “Lone Survivor” and “American Sniper” (both of which performed exceptionally well at the box office), Rothman said Lee’s film was in the middle of a “very complicated post[-production],” and he played up Lee’s innovative use of ultra high frame rate filmmaking for the military sequences. The use of that technique was first announced at last year’s convention, and Rothman noted Tuesday that it allows the viewer to “feel the contrast between the intensity of war and the rest of life, exactly as the young soldiers do.”

A somber trailer was presented to the audience of theater owners and NATO delegates, set to a melancholy rendition of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” A few choice lines of dialogue jumped out from the assemblage, shedding light on the war drama’s themes. “It is so weird, being honored for the worst day in your life,” newcomer Joe Alwyn, as the eponymous Lynn, says in voiceover. “Your story no longer belongs to you. It’s America’s story now,” Steve Martin — as a fictionalized National Football League team owner — says to Flynn at one point.

Kristen Stewart also stars as Lynn’s sister, desperate to know what the war did to him. Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund and Chris Tucker fill out the principal cast.

Lee took home the best director Oscar for “Life of Pi,” his second to date. Unfortunately, themes of war continue to be evergreen in their relevance, so watch for this one to land an emotional blow when it enters the marketplace on Veterans Day this November.

Other films previewed by Sony included Morten Tyldum’s “Passengers,” Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” and Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven,” among many others across the Columbia, TriStar and Screen Gems banners. It was also announced that Nikolaj Arcel’s Stephen King adaptation “The Dark Tower” began filming Tuesday, and that the new Marvel-produced Spider-Man film will be called “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”