LIONS FOR LAMBS (Robert Redford, 2007)
A term paper isn't due when the end credits roll for LIONS FOR LAMBS, but don't feel bad if you leave thinking you spent an hour and a half doing research for an end of the semester assignment. This well-meaning talkathon about the war on terror, contemporary politics, journalistic integrity, and civic engagement has enlightenment more than entertainment as its goal. LIONS FOR LAMBS aims to eliminate apathetic attitudes and inspire action in our democracy. It's a noble effort that seems like homework.
A war drama in which the big guns are the above-the-title talent instead of on-screen artillery, LIONS FOR LAMBS alternates among three concurrent storylines. Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) offers cable TV news reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) exclusive information about a pivotal shift in U.S. military stategy in Afghanistan that's being carried out as they speak. Meanwhile, soldiers Arian Finch (Derek Luke) and Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Peña) are on the front line in this mission. In the third thread, California university professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) attempts to shake promising but lazy student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield) of his cynicism about the political machine.
Redford, who also directs, and screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan, who penned this fall's action-intensive Iraq drama THE KINGDOM as well, utilize the measured tone of weekly periodical reporting to deliver arguments littering hundreds of comments sections in the blogosphere. This tempered rhetoric may make LIONS FOR LAMBS more palatable for those who wouldn't dream of reading Daily Kos, but it's hard to believe that the film will hold the slightest interest for anyone outside of the choir it's preaching to. Even those sympathetic to the film's viewpoint are likely to find LIONS FOR LAMBS to be earnest and hopelessly stiff.
The characters are as much nameless chess pieces to be moved around for the purposes that suit Redford and Carnahan as the troops are for the chickenhawk officeholders the film condemns. The individuals populating the film are trusty op-ed types--ambitious neoconservative warmonger, honorable servicemen, conscientious veteran journalist, idealistic professor, jaded young adult--spouting think tank studies in the form of dialogue. LIONS FOR LAMBS isn't objectionable because of its message but for how dully it is imparted.