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November 21, 2007 > Lions for Lambs

Lions for Lambs

A dialogue-packed movie about war and American apathy

By Joe Samagond

"Lions for Lambs" is a current issue film that deals the today's headlines and the limitations of American attention span. Lions are soldiers who do the fighting; lambs are unworthy politicians who send them into battle. The movie has three separate but connected sub-plots that affect each other through course of action.

Two determined students at a West Coast University, Arian and Ernest (Derek Luke and Michael Penna), follow the inspiration of their idealistic professor, Dr. Malley (Robert Redford), and attempt to do something important with their lives. But when the two make the bold decision to join the battle in Afghanistan, Malley is both moved and distraught. Now, as Arian and Ernest fight for survival in the field, they become the string that binds together two disparate stories on opposite sides of America.

In California an anguished Dr. Malley attempts to reach a privileged but disaffected student (Andrew Garfield) who is the very opposite of Arian and Ernest. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., charismatic Presidential hopeful, Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise), is about to give a bombshell story to a probing TV journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) that may affect Arian and Ernest's fates. As arguments, memories and bullets fly, the three stories are woven ever more tightly together, revealing how each of these Americans has a profound impact on each other...and the world.

"Lions for Lambs" surprises with its balance. This movie was not an attack against the Republican administration that it could have easily been. The neocon Republican Senator appears rational, passionate and forms educated arguments. His viewpoint seems compelling at times. The political left is represented by Redford's professor and Streep's reporter. Both are treated with rationale conviction. Neither has a clear anti-GOP agenda. Both of these characters even go as far as to acknowledge the error in the ways of their side.

If there is a message to the film, it is that we are being sheltered from reality and are not engaged. Redford's hypothesis is that we are placing focus on trivia while matters of true importance are treated as secondary. Only a miniscule portion of our population is "at war" while the rest of us continue with our comfortable lives. Surely this is something we all can agree on in Lions for Lambs and this comes into fruition as the film evolves.

Aside from the political commentary, this is a dialog heavy film. Characters are pinned against their situations which cause them to restrain from a course of action both physically and metaphorically. Redford, Cruise and Streep perform admirably. The conversations are engaging because they seem like the kind of things you and I are talking about today. The Cruise-Streep debate becomes interesting as the reporter picks apart the administration's euphemisms and the senator parrots the Bush-Cheney line. At times you may feel you are watching a current events show on TV.

A few additional technical merits could have gone a long way. The action scenes in Afghanistan are not up to par; a memorable score and unique cinematography are also missing. The screenplay is inherently foiled by remarkable coincidence; but there was no way around that. At a scant 88 minutes, "Lions for Lambs" is quick to get to the point but it seems to move beyond it too fast. These miscues keep it from perfection. Served as they are, "Lions for Lambs" is thinking person's film. Those seeking high drama or intensive action from whatever little teases the trailer suggests will be disappointed.

This movie is an examination of current geo-political situation of the US foreign policy, and its take on social issues, how it affects everyone from the high echelons of government, to the disconnected boy in the street who's focused on more selfish ideals. It is a mirror looking at US society as a whole. To quote Redford at the movie's premiere in Chicago, "I made the film to provoke thought, not to supply the answers."

"Lions for Lambs" is rated R for some war violence and language.
Runtime: 88 minutes.

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