Lions for Lambs movie poster
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Lions for Lambs movie poster

Lions for Lambs Movie Review

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It's Saturday and it's cold, and so far I have watched four movies. It's only 6pm. The third of my four conquests for today is Lions for Lambs, the Robert Redford-directed drama about the Iraq war and the U.S. government in general. While not an incredible movie, Lions for Lambs is on par with other Redford films of late: decent, unique but not perfect by any means.

Lions for Lambs has a clear political message, and Redford delivers that message with conviction. I give Redford credit for making a film like this; it is unconventional while designed to cater to mainstream audiences. It's a shame more people didn't see this film in theaters, as it is engaging and thought provoking, and says what a lot of people are thinking (at least us smart liberals).

The movie offers good performances from everyone involved, including Redford, Michael Peña, Derek Luke, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise. Cruise is especially fun to watch; he gets the most intriguing character, that of a senator who is trying to sell a reporter (Streep) on a new strategy that will win the war in Afghanistan. Cruise brings the intensity we come to expect from him, yet pulls back just a little to deliver one of the more intriguing characters in recent memory; his entire performance is delivered in the confines of a single room, and it's hard to tell whether he truly believes 100% that his new plan is right, or if he's just trying to pitch a new policy to win over Americans and get himself elected into a higher office. Streep plays off him well, though this is one of her simpler roles.

Lions for Lambs tells a story that will stick in your mind in some form or another, and from that, the movie can be seen as a success. While I'm looking at the movie from a liberal bias, I would have to think that the discussion between Cruise and Streep can hit home with anyone. On the one hand, you have Cruise campaigning for a sure-fire way to win the war (no matter what the cost), yet not once does he go into any sort of detail. He is a man selling a product without telling us what the product is. On the other hand, there is Streep, a member of the press, whose job it is to convey to the American people the news. Cruise is giving her news; he's telling her of a new strategy against the Taliban and wants her to be the first to report it. It's the golden opportunity, except that Streep has heard it all before. Every year, politicians feed the press stuff like this, and the press eat it up and redistribute propaganda to the public. Whether you're Republican, Democrat or other, we often know when the politicians are full of shit, and yet there is that optimistic part of us that wants to believe that what they are saying is true, or that they are actually going to carry through with their plans, or that things will finally end with a hug and a bow.

A separate story with Redford as a college professor who debates the merits of political science, war and dedication with one of his brightest students (Andrew Garfield) is not nearly as effective, except to give weight to the most emotional of the storylines in the film, that of two young men who find themselves stranded on a remote mountaintop with nothing around them except for Taliban fighters. The war sequences are pretty effective.

Lions for Lambs works on account of the acting talent and screenplay, but at times the film, visually, is too simple for its own good. Redford set out to make something of a 12 Angry Men, in that he relies, for the most part, on people talking in rooms. This is effective to some degree, but with the war storyline included, the film seems lopsided. The Cruise/Streep sequence is memorable, the war sequence engaging and the Redford scenes sort of dull, and since Redford bounces between the three, the pacing is inconsistent. Had Redford connected the intensities of the three storylines a little better, the film could have been great, but as is, we have to settle for pretty good.

Still, considering that many major critics ravaged Lions for Lambs, "pretty good" is far above expectations. Lions for Lambs is a moderately powerful and certainly thought-provoking drama; it isn't without its flaws, but it's still a quality film. Recommended.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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