Lions for Lambs **
Directed by Robert Redford
Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan
Robert Redford as Professor Stephen Malley
Meryl Streep as Janine Roth
Tom Cruise as Senator Jasper Irving
Michael Peña as Ernest Rodriguez
Andrew Garfield as Todd Hayes
Peter Berg as Lt. Col. Falco
Derek Luke as Arian Finch
88 Minutes(Rated R for some war violence and language. )
When I walked out of Robert Redford's rather useless political film "Lions for Lambs," I tried to find a single reason to justify my twelve dollars being spent (that's right New Yorkers-the Regal Union Square Theatre has bumped their ticket price up a whole dollar to twelve now, so don't go there and take advantage of the eleven dollar theatres before it's too late!-and also the beautiful Sunshine theatre, which is still only 10.75). But I couldn't think about anything really good to say, except that its well-intentioned. But intentions don't equal good product. This is a strong fall with too many actually good movies to see to bother wasting your time with "Lions for Lambs," and I think everyone involved knew that, trimming this movie to a lean 88 minutes-so you can see it, waste your time, but at the same time be comforted knowing that, in the end, not THAT much time was wasted.
This isn't exactly a movie as it is watching
a) debates on various news stations
b) a college debate
c) a made for TV melodrama about the war in Iraq.
And in a fall of rather weak political dramas-right on the heels of "Rendition"-"Lions for Lambs" is certainly the weakest, and the most useless.
The film follows six people-three pairs. The first pair is Janine Roth and Senator Jasper Irving-played by Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise, respectively. Irving has invited Roth-a prize winning journalist-to his office to discuss a plan that the government has to win the war in Iraq once and for all. We actually watch two of the soldiers involved in this plan-Arian Fitch and Ernest Rodriguez-played by Derek Luke and Michael Pena, respectively. When Ernest falls out of the plane, Fitch-his best friend since college-goes after him. The two spend the majority of the movie injured in a snowbank while the enemy approaches. They are also being watched by their military leaders, but they don't seem to be doing anything about it. No rescue sequence, not intensity-nothing. The third pair is Professor Stephen Malley and Todd Hayes-Robert Redford and Andrew Garfield. Malley is telling young Hayes-who has been slacking off in his class-about the two military men, who happened to be in his class a few years back. We follow these three pairs over the course of a single hour, where several truths will come to light-for these people personally and politically.
This is really a rather preachy exercise-a loose story that was formed just for Redford to bring his message across, with no focus on character or plot. The moments where you are supposed to get emotionally involved in the characters choices-including a final shot for the Streep character that is oddly reminiscent of the final shot of "Michael Clayton"-it is impossible, because instead of being multi-dimensionally, they are only singular ideas-and pretty standards ones-"why did you go to Iraq in the first place, they never attacked us," or "World War II lasted five and a half years, and here we are six years into this and not even close to being finished." Redford directs quite simply-and the anti-war ideals are just so easily laid out for the viewer that its hard to even find something deep within this. But I tried. I tried to find parallels between the two main "interviews" in the film. I tried to match the Cruise character with the Redford character, as well as the Streep character with the Garfield character. I saw both Cruise and Redford as salespeople-Cruise selling an idea to Streep, and Redford selling an idea to his student. Cruise trying to sell a way to end the war, and Redford selling a way to be part of the war-to skew people that want to teeter on the edge of the whole event without being a part of it-the neutral ones. To use knowledge and intelligence to put an end to it once and for all. And even those subtle nuances were so apparent as well that this is something that could be viewed in a freshman junior high school class and they would pass with flying colors.
The acting is all very underwhelming. Redford, both in front of and behind the camera, doesn't have much to do, and Streep is far to talented to be stuck in this mediocre work. Tom Cruise-in his first film with United Artists after getting the boot from Paramount-is obviously trying his best to make something out of this nothing character. And he does play the "phony politician" perfectly. A scene where he is on the phone in another room and Streep looks around at his wall, she finds-framed-a story that she wrote about him. One gets the idea that this Senator put that on the wall just because he knew she was coming, and whenever other people stop by he puts something on the wall for them to recognize. I really can't recommend "Lions for Lambs"-perhaps for a late night television viewing one day, months from now-on DVD, or even cable. There is no reason for this film to be in wide release, or release at all. Only a few hours after seeing it, I hardly have any recollection of it. It's a war film without any war-a film low on plot, and strong on ideas. Only problem is I've heard these ideas a few times in the last couple of months.