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Review

‘Lions for Lambs’ mirrors present day political landscape

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November 15, 2007

It is not often that audiences are invited into a theater and then berated for their lethargic ignorance. But that is exactly what Robert Redford’s new politically saturated lecture of a film “Lions for Lambs” does. Career politicians, journalists and apathetic youth catch the bulk of the flak, but underneath the surface, the entire country is getting a fierce rap on the knuckles.

Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (“The Kingdom”) and directed by Redford, “Lions for Lambs” is actually three separate story threads loosely tied at the ends to create a narrative loop. Janine Roth (Meryll Streep), a headstrong TV journalist, arrives on Capital Hill for an exclusive one-on-one with Presidential hopeful Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise). Irving hopes to sell Roth, and thus the media, his new strategy to win both the War on Terror and the “hearts and minds of the people.”

At the same time, 3,000 miles away in a California university, Professor Stephen Malley (Redford) attempts to rekindle the fire within disaffected student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield). Malley uses as kindling the tale of two former brilliant pupils that took Malley’s idealistic preaching to heart and enlisted, hoping to evoke change from the inside. Instead of evoking that change, the pair find themselves spear-heading the very mission Irving is spinning so hard to sell the American public, a mission that involves capturing the high-ground in Afghanistan before the snow melts and the Afghani’s can get there first. The three narratives are juggled simultaneously, all occupying the same time frame.

Redford does a wonderful job at timing each scene just right, skillfully switching between all three claustrophobic fragments at just the right time to keep the audience from getting too bored with any one premise.

Carnahan’s script pops with enticing dialogue that gloats in its own rhetoric. The script pulls viewers in with a clever set-up but never goes anywhere. The characters talk themselves in circles, blowing hot air over problems we already know about. The film never even attempts for that “dare to be great” moment when a film stops lecturing and starts speaking.

The only thing the film does say is to make a desperate call to arms, not for more soldiers but for a smarter breed of citizen. The most important person to watch in this three-ring circus is disillusioned student Todd. He personifies an entire nation of couch potatoes that remain complacent in their inaction. This slothfulness is a disturbingly perfect metaphor for an ignorant streak this country desperately needs to break.

Sadly, the intriguing start soon collapses in on itself, as the lessons here get lost amidst all the finger pointing. “Mistakes have been made,” Irving continually stresses, as pictures of Ms. Rice and Mr. Bush peer luminously over his shoulder, a deliberate visual reminder of the puppet masters behind this whole mess.  Both Carnahan and Redford can be applauded for trying to fight the good fight, urging that viewers pick a side, presumably theirs, and get involved, but in the end “Lions for Lambs” is a smoke-and-mirrors filibuster eloquently stating what is painfully obvious.

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.