- Rated R
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All photos © MGM
Reviewed by David Medsker
he Iraq War drama “Lions for Lambs” wants to think that it is equal-opportunity in its blame throwing, but that simply ain’t the case. Sure, it wags a finger at the (ahem, liberal) media for its complicity in disseminating the White House’s pro-war propaganda, and it admonishes the citizens who consume that propaganda without a second thought. The Republicans’ sins, on the other hand, are their view of war as a promotional tool, and their manipulation of all parties to deliver their message. In other words, the liberals are merely naïve, while the Republicans are bloodless orcs. Even this pinko Commie bastard writer knows that that is not a level playing field. To add insult to injury, this movie about doing the right thing ends up completely undermining the efforts of the few who take them up on the offer.
The movie weaves together three stories in real time, beginning with reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) getting an exclusive interview with Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise). Irving wants to discuss his new plan for securing a “win” in the war on terror, and he’s giving Janine the scoop because she had written favorably about him in the past. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Senator Irving’s plans are put into motion, as a group of U.S. soldiers embark on a mission to secure a mountain with a 360-degree view of the ground below. Their transport copter is attacked, and soldiers Rodriguez (Michael Peña) and Finch (Derek Luke) are left behind, with Afghans coming for them from all directions. At the very same moment, in “a California university” (one of the most unintentionally funny supers ever), Professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) calls in onetime star pupil Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield) to find out why he’s stopped coming to Malley’s Political Science class. Todd claims he’s just too busy, but the fact is that he has lost faith in the process.
It’s tempting to draw a comparison between “Lions for Lambs” and “Home of the Brave,” since both involved botched military missions, but to do so would be both grossly unfair and incredibly generous. “Lions for Lambs” is cleverer than “Home of the Brave,” but it doesn’t exactly mean anything to be cleverer than “Home of the Brave,” does it? Indeed, it doesn’t mean much of anything to compare “Lions” to any of the movies released this year that involve either 9/11 or the subsequent war, since all of those movies – “Reign over Me,” “In the Valley of Elah” and “Rendition,” to name but three – are sub par at best and insufferable at worst. If “Lions for Lambs” is the winner of the award for Best 9/11 Movie of 2007, it is the result of a battle of who could care less.
Watching Streep and Cruise go toe to toe in their interview is the most entertaining part of the movie, if only because one cannot help but notice that while Cruise knows how to be a star, he still has a thing or two to learn about being an actor, a lesson that Streep doles out in spoonfuls during their time onscreen. Redford’s work is fine but nonessential, and good luck having any feeling whatsoever for Peña or Luke. The setup for their predicament is ludicrous – the special effects are worse – and the more their story unfolds, the less sympathetic it gets, and not in a good way.
“Lions for Lambs” wants to be a call to arms of the non-violent variety, but for all its attempts to spread a power-to-the-people message, it undercuts that notion at every opportunity. In the end, the viewer can’t help but feel like the Redford’s star pupil. After all, if the movie preaches for people to get up, stand up Marley-style, and then runs those people into the ground, what’s the point?