Lions For Lambs

Lions For Lambs is the fourth film to be released this fall that tackles the War on Terror, with a couple more still on the way. The movie is badly mis-marketed. The advertisements, which use quotes from Maxim’s Pete Hammond like “you won’t be able to turn away,” will have viewers expecting a political thriller but ending up with a political debate. This is Robert Redford’s seventh film as a director. Lions For Lambs is not his worst, but it is certainly not his best.

The film is very claustrophobic and one would guess it had a small budget, with much of it taking place within the office of a U.S. senator and the office of a university professor. That senator is Republican Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise), who is clearly one of those guys in D.C. who is willing to do “whatever it takes” to win the war. His goal is to get the American people on his side and to do that he must use the media to create propaganda. He calls in journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) for an exclusive interview to get his message to the public that he has devised a strategy that will win the War on Terror. Honestly, this part of the movie doesn’t go very far. There’s virtually no plot; just a lot of talking. At times it seems to go in circles with Roth asking the same questions and Irving trying to work his way around them. “Why now,” Roth would ask, “why not one or two or three years ago.” Irving always responds by telling her to forget about the past.

What plot there is connects the characters to each other in a “Babel” sort of way. Arian (Derek Luke, Catch a Fire) and Ernest (Michael Pena, Shooter) are two soldiers in Iraq and part of a platoon who has received orders, which come from the plan that Irving has set in motion, for a strike against the enemy. Their chopper is attacked, due to bad intelligence (with Irving to blame), and Arain and Ernest end up stranded on a mountain side in the middle of a blizzard.

Redford plays professor Stephen Malley, who teaches at ‘A California University,’ the film tells us. I’m not sure why it doesn’t say which one when a couple of the students are wearing USC clothing. Malley taught both Arian and Ernest and a section of the film explores their background story, but not enough of it. Instead we get to watch Redford lecture and motivate Todd Hayes, (Andrew Garfield), a smart but lazy student who doesn’t show up for class.

The acting by the ‘big three’ is surprisingly bland and one-note for the most part. I wonder how much Streep really cares about her roles anymore. She wasn’t very impressive in Rendition, an equally ambitious but ultimately failed project, nor does she look like she’s trying very hard as the intuitive Roth. Cruise and Redford aren’t particularly good either, simply because their characters don’t have a lot to do. Character development is lacking just as much as plot development.

Lions For Lambs is not a bad movie, just not very much of one. Instead of conveying its messages through an engaging plot, Redford chooses the unadvised talkative approach. The movie does have a couple of things going for it. It’s only 88 minutes long and doesn’t wear out it’s welcome. It’s not overly preachy. Redford encourages you to do something, but also says that it’s your decision to make in the end. The movie is at its best when it focuses on the dilemma that Arian and Ernest find themselves in and how Redford explores the connection between the soldiers and the professor. With all due respect to Streep and Cruise, the movie would have been far better if it just left them out of it entirely.

Lions For Lambs doesn’t bring up anything we don’t already know from watching the news daily and for that reason, the movie isn’t very interesting. There are too many dull spurts with nothing but dialogue and the camera specifically tied to the faces of the actors. Roth is asking the same questions that Congress is asking George Bush. Irving gives the same lectures to Roth that Bush gives in his press conferences. The movie gets its title from the phrase by a British general during World War I “never have I seen such lions being led by such lambs.” Maybe Lions For Lambs would have benefited if it focused more on the lions instead of the lambs.

Grade: C+

Lions for Lambs PosterRelease Date: November 9, 2007
Rated: R for some war violence and language.
Running Time: 88 min.
Cast: Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Michael Pena, Derek Luke, Peter Berg
Director: Robert Redford
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan
Studio: United Artists
Official Website: LionsforLambs.com