Lions for Lambs (2007) / Drama-War
MPAA Rated: R for language and violence
Running time: 88 min.
Cast: Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Andrew Garfield, Derek Luke, Michael Pena, Peter Berg, Kevin Dunn
Cameo: Frank Stallone, Roger Clinton, Stephen Baldwin
Director: Robert Redford
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan
Review published November 12, 2007
Lions for Lambs is a three-part story, with some convergence between the three parts, offering a simplified assessment of the current educational, political and media climate regarding the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. One story tells of two college students who have decided to put their comfortable career track on hold in order to give their support to the war effort in Afghanistan, much to their political science professor's dismay. That professor, Stephen Malley (Redford, The Clearing), is featured in the second story, where he calls in to encourage a student (Garfield, "Sugar Rush") who appears to be dropping out of his interest in in a potential future political career because of a feeling of apathy that nothing he does will ever make a difference. The third story deals with an up-and-coming GOP Senator (Cruise, M:I III) who feels he has a winning strategy for the war that will set things right in that region, discussing his philosophies on and off the record with renowned, seasoned journalist, Janine Roth (Streep, The Ant Bully).
Lions for Lambs is what I would call a "fodder for thought" movie, rather than a full-fledged motion picture. Sure, it has actors, a script, and a story to tell, but really, it's the message that drives the film, with everything else is merely a set-up for a more compelling delivery. It's a propaganda film to a certain extent, but not without interest, as there are enough poignant moments to make the endeavor worthwhile for those with an ear for modern political thinking, or lack thereof. Those viewers looking for a gripping thriller or a great war flick should probably look elsewhere, as this Robert Redford directed piece is only about trying to provoke thought. It's a call to action for those who have become so disconnected to what's going on in the world around them that idealists with defined political agendas have been able to effect great changes, many of them arguably making things worse, capitalizing on the ambivalence of the uncaring public and the ratings-driven media.
This is the second Carnahan scripted film this year to tackle the tough questions emanating out of the Middle East conflict, coming out shortly after his more straight-forward film, The Kingdom. This one primarily deals with domestic agendas, though some of the action takes place in the airspace and ground of Afghanistan. With the exception of this war footage, Lions for Lambs very well could have worked as a three act stage play, as the talking heads dominate most scenes, broken up only for the occasional flashback for the purposes of illustration. If you're even remotely interested in these issues, and I hope that means many, it has a certain power, especially in its indictment of the media for playing far too passive a role in covering government agendas. Anyone who has ever turned on the news of late will know that the media bows far more to the cult of personalities that provide eye candy and cheesecake for channel surfers to stop and admire than it does to strong issues and much-needed information of actual value to everyday people.
While the narrative format and lack of a truly compelling story development are liabilities that make this a very flawed and overly preachy way to spend 88 minutes, the acting is still superb all around, as is Carnahan's dialogue between people of depth. While most observant viewers will already have formed opinions as to the worthiness of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the complicit role that the media plays in sidestepping confrontation with government officials in favor of pleasing target demographics, these aren't the overriding themes of the film. Really, it's all about poking around in the psyche of fledgling activists who need a gentle reminder that if they don't like what's going on, that's all the more reason to get involved, instead of sitting idly by and letting those with no knowledge of history make mistake after mistake at the cost of American lives and our everyday security. If the film does nothing else, if it delivers this theme with any results, it will ultimately prove a successful venture, as a social catalyst much more so than as a movie worth watching more than once.
©2007 Vince Leo