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Film Reviews
Lions for Lambs

by Vince Rogers

Starring: Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise
Directed By: Robert Redford
Produced By: Robert Redford, Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tom Cruise, Tracy Falco
Genre: Drama / Thriller / War
Release Date: Nov. 9, 2007
MPAA Rating: R
Distributors: United Artists, MGM

Lions for Lambs is essentially a story about the power of ideals, the impact of decisions and the responsibilities of loyalty. The film illustrates how different people can call concepts such as freedom, equality and justice by the same name, but their different backgrounds, aspirations and personal motivations drive them to make very different decisions based on their personal interpretations of those ideals. Ultimately, these same considerations can determine whether peoples loyalties are to tangible entities like their fellow man, their political party and the welfare of future generations or to more abstract concepts such as faith, democracy or the "American Way." In Lions for Lambs we see that some peoples ideals drive them to make "I" deals, while others compel them to make "We" deals.

Lions for Lambs is directed by and co-stars Robert Redford. The film weaves together three different stories about how the urgency of wartime choices, disenchantment with the political process and feelings of hopelessness about the future of America shape the decisions made by different people. We watch three different stories unfold as two high-minded bright young soldiers, a charismatic ambitious U.S. Senator and a jaded "Beltway" bored journalist and an apathetic rich kid college student and his professor try to come to grips with the choices they have made or are about to make. It should go without saying that things will probably work out far better for the handsome, rich and powerful guy sitting in the leather chair than for the two young dudes stranded on the frozen battlefield.

Charismatic young Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) has ascended to the heights of power and enjoys all of the wealth and privilege that his good looks, pedigree and connections have afforded him. He concocts his own personal glory-seeking scheme to win small battles in the mountains of Afghanistan, just to give the people back home some much needed wins to feel good about. He also thinks it couldn’t hurt his plans to run for the Oval Office.

We watch him lay out his diabolical, but earnestly heartfelt plan (which is eerily reminiscent of a strategy used in Viet Nam) in an exclusive interview with reporter Janine Roth played by Meryl Streep. Irving decides to give Roth an exclusive about his war plans, because she wrote the first article that caused the Senator’s bright star to rise. All those years ago, she truly believed he was a genuinely compassionate statesman. Now all she sees in front of her is just another public relations conscious demagogue.

While the Senator sits in his cozy office and sells patriotism to the masses in sound bites, two young soldiers are truly fighting the good fight on the other side of the world. Ernest (Michael Pena) and Arian (Derek Luke) are stranded and waiting to be rescued from atop a snow covered mountain in Afghanistan. The two concerned and compassionate soldiers decided to forgo the lure of immediate gratification and big salaries after college. Instead they decide to put their principles into action by fighting for their vision of "American Dream" on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

While the dynamic duo lie frightened in a frozen enemy field, back at their old alma mater in sunny California yet another lesson in civic duty is being taught. Dr, Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) who is also Ernest and Arian’s former professor, tries to talk one his current students Todd (Andrew Garfield) into filling the void of leadership the two soldiers left here at home. While Ernest and Arian would give anything to be back on their sunny college campus, the professor seems to be losing his battle to get young Todd to just wake up on time for class.

Young men and women are dying in an apparently senseless war by the thousands abroad. Yet it becomes painfully obvious that the Senator believes that just talking the talk here at home is as important in the larger scheme of things as walking it out on the battlefields. Even the eyes-wide-open journalist Streep, who considers herself a journalistic crusader (a write or die chick if you will) and a first class B.S. detector comes to realize how the media has been duped into selling the establishment’s story to the masses for their own self serving interests. The professors battle to get the tousle-headed young rich lad to just come to class on time is demonstrative of how little those of us at home are asked to sacrifice, yet how much some of us benefit from the sacrifices of others. One thing is for certain and it should come as no surprise to the viewer that noone else in the film might actually die from the Senator’s choices except the two young men stranded on the snowy icecap. Like many other young men and women caught up in the war, they will likely see their boundless potential wasted fighting in the killing fields of a far-off land.

Essentially, Lions for Lambs is an interesting film but not especially revelatory or riveting. It’s ruminations while very interesting are most often fairly run of the mill. Written and produced by Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom) the film rarely tells us anything we didn’t already know nor does it compel us to draw any new conclusions about why young men and women are being sacrificed on a daily basis for God knows whatever of the millions of reasons people have rightly or wrongly decided this war is about. However, what director Redford essentially sets out to do here is not to tell us what we should believe, but more importantly tell us that we should still believe in something. The message here is that we should never lose our passion for making the world a better place or our vision for building a brighter future. To that aim the film succeeds in it’s objective.

The battle scenes and the story of the heroic bond between Arian and Ernest provides a very engaging back-story or tie that binds the three stories together. On the other hand, the two bi-coastal fireside chats between the Senator and the scribe and the professor and the prodigal student fail to rise above the dramatic arcs of an episode of Meet the Press.

Nevertheless, Lions for Lambs is a decent movie with a great concept that fails to live up to it’s potential to be a great movie through better storytelling. The film could have done so much more with it’s stellar cast, it’s legendary director and the mountain of possibilities found in such a subject of monumental and timely importance. The film is well done though and still worth seeing. Groups of young people and families might especially benefit from viewing the film together. It should lead to some much needed discussions, which was certainly absent before the start of this war. To be a catalyst for discussion is essentially what this film aimed to do, so therefore - Mission Accomplished.

(All Photos Copyright © United Artists)

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