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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 Rob Gonsalves

"More lamb than lion."
2 stars

Is there a point to political films any more? 'Lions for Lambs,' the latest Hollywood broadside against “the war on terror,” made me wonder.

What exactly does a movie like this hope to accomplish? Inspiring hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets in protest? Sorry, that's happened several times; it changed nothing, though it made a lot of people feel like they Did Something. (Full disclosure: I participated in one anti-war rally during the run-up to our Iraq adventure. It ended up being about as persuasive to those in power as the February 13, 2003 protest, which involved millions.) Inspiring scores of people to write letters to their congresspeople? What does Robert Redford, both as the director of Lions for Lambs and in character as a disappointed professor passing judgment on us apathetic masses, expect us to do about this massive death machine when those who set it in motion aren’t listening?

Working from a speechifying script by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Redford breaks his lecture up into three segments. Redford’s professor calls a smart but underachieving student (Andrew Garfield) into his office, regaling him with the story of two former students (Derek Luke and Michael Peña) turned soldiers, who are now in Afghanistan to implement a new military strategy hyped by a slick Republican senator (Tom Cruise), who calls veteran journalist Meryl Streep into his office to hype the game plan and charismatically intimidate her into running it as a Good News on the War Front story. Fortunately, Redford’s got ace editor Joe Hutshing (who’s done fine work for Oliver Stone and Cameron Crowe) to stitch all this into a smoothly flowing narrative, even if it ends up flowing like water down a drain.

One can easily picture Lions for Lambs adapted for the stage, including the Afghanistan combat scenes, which, like the rest of the film, were shot in California. All you see of the country is snowy rubble at night; all you see of the Taliban fighters is shadows. This film, 85% of which consists of conversations in offices, cost $35 million, most of which, I assume, went to the three high-wattage leads; you or I could shoot roughly the same film with good local-theatre players for El Mariachi money. $35 million could buy some repairs in Iraq, or some better supplies for our troops. But I digress.

Tom Cruise, the reviled couch-hopper himself, comes through. We forget at our peril that he can tweak his win-win-win persona to paint dreadful portraits of cancerous masculinity; see his vile grandstanding in Magnolia. He plays his war-mongering senator without a wink, never tipping his hand. If the senator doesn’t believe passionately in what he’s telling the reporter, he sure knows how to sell it well, which amounts to the same thing in politics. Given the freedom of playing this liberal movie’s boogeyman, Cruise (who tends not to advertise his political affiliations but has contributed to Democratic campaigns) ends up being more interesting than anyone else on the screen. Even Streep, looking more than ever like Pauline Kael (who would've loved to loathe this film: three of her favorite targets in one movie), goes through the motions of exhaustion and disillusionment, at one point rubbing her hands over her face in the back of a taxi in one of those Acting Moments. Sadly, the soldiers are just there as chess pieces to make the film’s point that our government is a bunch of lambs sacrificing lions.

Lions for Lambs is the cinematic equivalent of the angry pamphlets of yesteryear — from a time when, as Redford would have it, there was a better class of youngster. (Cue Dana Carvey: “In my day...”) The real war in this movie is between the grizzled, committed Baby Boomers — Redford, Streep — and smug, unserious Generation Y, as personified by a carefree little frat boy. Not much of a fair fight. Redford forgets, of course, that it was largely Boomer politicians who voted us into this mess, on both sides of the aisle, and that it's largely Generation Y who's doing the actual fighting and dying. Boomers are running out of Greatest Generation folks to rebel against, so now they’re picking on the generations after theirs.

This isn't a rallying point so much as a frustrated snort of impotence — as much a screed against citizens who fail to Do Something as against the administration. As a film, it’s scaled like a short, scrappy indie (it’s in and out in 88 minutes — concise work from the director who took the better part of three hours to adapt The Horse Whisperer) but plays the same bloated Hollywood strings — the reporter’s crisis of conscience, the soldiers bravely, painfully climbing to their feet to meet their fate like lions.

Redford might like to see himself as a lion of cinema, but his movie (a non-starter at the box office — so much for star power) bleats like a lamb — sullenly, ineffectually, pointlessly.

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originally posted: 11/12/07 10:24:47
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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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