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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.56%
Worth A Look27.87%
Average: 24.59%
Pretty Bad: 26.23%
Total Crap: 14.75%

6 reviews, 25 user ratings

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Lions for Lambs
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by Erik Childress

"Meet the Pressing Issues"
3 stars

While Vietnam was raging, how many films can you remember being released during that period to directly deal with the choices made in getting us into it? Without benefit of quick research online the ones that immediately leap to mind are films that either put us into the heart of the war (a genre which flourished a decade later with Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and then some) or dealt directly with the aftermath of those who fought it. The Deer Hunter, Coming Home and John Wayne’s jingoistic antithesis, The Green Berets, are the quick answers. Our documentaries back then were actual war footage from invited journalists. But who aside from the protestors were shouting loudest about the injustices that kept our troops over there? The most well-known instance of a celebrity making their mark got them dubbed “Hanoi Jane.” Mixing fame with political activism tends to leave a few sores on the brains (or is it their egos) of the average Joe who’d sooner see them shut up and keep their big sticks at home then, god forbid, have an opinion like their American citizenship gives them a right to. To me it’s not an issue – especially when I’m in agreement. But when they do take the stage, I hope it’s with the voice of the anti-politician – shooting straight and offering more than the same soundbite solutions to new problems. Without blinking, the makers behind Lions for Lambs, including director Robert Redford, are passionately trying to involve paying customers in the Iraq debate. But I’m still hearing the same ol’ arguments I could watch for free on Meet the Press or Bill Maher each week.

The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan (who also wrote this year’s The Kingdom) takes a three-prong approach by giving us a little taste every few minutes from the classroom to the battleground and the media’s relationship with the decision makers in-between. Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) is a well-respected D.C. journalist meeting with Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise), whom she once called “the future of his party.” That would be Republican. This one-on-one exclusive to get the word out on his latest battleplan is his way of repaying her kind words at election time. Jasper’s hard stance on “winning” this war on terror opens himself up to far more questions and his thinly disguised public relations move turns into a sparring match over the unknown finality of his plan that is going into motion as they speak.

Immediately it looks to be a big mistake with a small platoon’s helicopter taking fire, suffering casualties and seeing Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Pena) falling out. Not content to see his best friend left behind, Arian Finch (Derek Luke) willingly jumps out; neither of whom wearing a parachute and left in the snowy hills of Afghanistan wounded and slowly surrounded by enemy troops. Both soldiers were once enrolled at “a California University” (a label that suggests more liberal parody than parity) under the tutelage of Professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford), a Vietnam vet who has arranged his own meeting with an absentee student (Andrew Garfield) whom he sees great potential for. He even offers him an easy out with a guaranteed “B” (and not a single class left to attend) or he can sit in on a private lecture with Teach about lost promise and a semi-Greek chorus on the other prongs intercut within.

There is nothing about Lions for Lambs that isn’t there for support of a position held by two-thirds of the national choir. But preaching isn’t it’s problem. It’s not even lecturing. Carnahan’s script toots a lot of Gondor horns about politicians sidestepping the issues if it gets them a few steps closer to the White House. Then it goes about doing the same thing avoiding any serious debate or necessary contradictions from liberal opponents. Toss in a little responsibility issue about the complicity of the media to sell the war from the beginning and the evils of making a buck over making a change and the guilt trip any outspoken individual receives for speaking up is hypocritical when the film is precisely all talk – but with the benefit of some Hollywood heavyweights behind it.

The confrontation between Streep and Cruise comes down to the malfeasance of powerful egos thinking they can achieve victory as easy as an election or being number one in their class. Translate: The war is unwinable and we may be able to outthink, but not outlast the bad guys this time. The enlistment of Luke & Pena is documented in flashback in a gutcheck moment about putting up or shutting up. Their radical plan for replacing Junior Year with service to society in theory sounds brilliant but has the aura of participating in the Peace Corps while wearing an orange jumpsuit that will hear “NO WAY” more than once from the nation’s youth. (Hell, I remember during my duty for Christian Confirmation the various tasks we were optioned and seeing certain fellow students get to opt out thanks to parents on the school board.) Their character’s background, mostly spoken by Redford, would have been a more effective driving force of their plot section then experiencing another behind-enemy-lines survival where Pena (a good actor) makes his play to become typecast as the guy with broken legs trapped in the worst circumstances. Translate: Our boys are dying over there and for what? Finally, there’s the “university” sequence, where we alternate from wishing we had Professor Redford back in school to wishing we’d shift away from this clearly uninteresting student whose contributions to his own class are so base that we wonder how well-traveled the Prof is if he considers it “one of the most interesting debates I’ve ever been a part of.” Translate: The old guard can school you on what’s wrong, but it’s up to the next generation to make it right.

The longer the situation in Iraq goes on, the less interesting a debate it becomes since there almost is no debate anymore. We’re all basically just buying time until the next election where we hope a change of pace or a fresh face might make it all go away. Didn’t quite work out with Fahrenheit 9/11, did it? And that’s about as weighted a scale as you’re going to find. Despite Michael Moore’s frequency for stacking an already stacked deck with trickery and image association, the man does know that two hours of saying the same thing is going to wear thin. Lions for Lambs seeks its knowledge from the political to the philosophical, but its editorial patches are so obviously concrete that it may as well stamp each section with one of those animated television logos to let you know what you’re watching and what’s coming up next.

Cruise and Streep get the most mileage from their scenes as characters who get a few momentary reflections to define them from more than just their entrenched beliefs. Luke and Pena shine brighter in the classroom than on the battlefield. Redford, as always, is a guy that instantly commands your respect on screen, but not when peppering his points with “ROME IS BURNING!” and expecting viewers to rush from the theater as if someone just yelled “fire.” At under 90 minutes, Lions for Lambs is Redford’s shortest directorial effort by a half-hour. Any additional length may have been welcome if it meant stretching its philosophies, but welcomely excised if it meant more neutrality on fresh perspectives if not on winged affiliations. The title refers to a quote from a German General during WWII (who may have aped it from Alexander the Great - a playful bit of irony about Carnahan's script) who commented on the bravery of his enemy soldiers being led into harms way by the stupidity of its leaders. Alone that’s enough for some Fox News douchebag to call out Redford as a Nazi sympathizer, but the film still isn’t quite enough to put people like that in their place. Lions for Lambs poses a lot of questions, but you won’t have to wait around until the end to find the answer, because you know right from the beginning exactly what you’re getting.

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originally posted: 11/09/07 16:00:00
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User Comments

12/08/17 morris campbell interesting film 4 stars
12/22/09 mr.mike I don't agree with it's politics but Redford keeps it from being overly stagy. 3 stars
2/05/09 Faraz J I likde Redford and Cruise. But the movie wa too much talkie talkie. Here to have fun dude. 1 stars
4/06/08 Arcane Excellent movie. Excellent acting. Should be watched. 5 stars
1/25/08 Gretchen Seitz Cruise's accidental portrayal of unintended protagonist can't save film from endinglessness 2 stars
1/25/08 Courtney (almost as bad as tennis elbow) Unappealing leftist propaganda masquerades as war suspense film until lack-of-ending. 2 stars
1/08/08 Double M Mr. Redford, the "wtf-is-a-debate?" crowd wants The Patriot. Make dumb blockbusters instead 4 stars
11/29/07 Abhishek Chakraborty Damit. I wasted my money seeing this film. I wish I'd read efilmcritic first 2 stars
11/24/07 LABELESS worthseeing. Redford is a much needed voice 5 stars
11/19/07 WillReadmore One election didn't fix everything. So don't vote? GenX=wimp. 4 stars
11/14/07 deidre It was intense and if the viewer was not mentally lazy had very healthy messages 4 stars
11/14/07 Joe Smaltz I'm already anti-war, the movie draged, and was very predictable. Needed some tobasco. 3 stars
11/14/07 Hotshot This film sucks ass! Don't waste your money... 1 stars
11/14/07 D If i want to be preached to I will go to church! 1 stars
11/14/07 Naurto No, it's more like you have to be a really dull person to "get" the film. 1 stars
11/14/07 JHensley This was an excellent film. If you don't get it, you're the problem. 4 stars
11/13/07 Debra Sine I am democrat, however, I still love my Country. Save your money. 1 stars
11/13/07 cbid So much wasted potential with this movie's theme. Hollywood writers should stay on stike 3 stars
11/13/07 Lou Redford is a bore, Cruise is a fool 1 stars
11/12/07 Neddymac Provocativismo! Bravo for the thought stimulation! 5 stars
11/12/07 Eva I guess you have to be over 40 to 'get' the film 5 stars
11/12/07 Realist No one wants to see a movie portraying out military as a bumch of losers. 1 stars
11/12/07 DonnyM What a joke film. 1 stars
11/10/07 Chugger This blows so hard and I'm a Democrat 1 stars
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  09-Nov-2007 (R)
  DVD: 08-Apr-2008



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