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Review

‘Lions for Lambs’ mirrors present day political landscape

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November 15, 2007

A subject of endless debate amongst hardcore cinephiles and casual movie fans alike has been what the cinema’s exact purpose is. Many argue that the movies should be an escape from the real world, where we can forget our problems and merely be entertained in a dark room for a couple of hours. I understand this point perfectly well, especially in our current political climate; so much dour news, especially about the war in Iraq, is being bandied about these days, I get the logic of wanting to watch Adam Sandler do goofy voices over cinematic takes on current events.

But this is the very attitude that “Lions for Lambs” is against, and the film makes a rather compelling case for picking a side and at least trying to stand for something instead of letting the world go by with a complacent, Cheeto-dusted expression.

The events in “Lions for Lambs” unfold over the course of three different yet interwoven plot threads. The first involves an ambitious senator (Tom Cruise) allowing a seasoned reporter (Meryl Streep) the first glance at a new plan aimed at earning America’s support for the war on terror.

In the second story, a college professor (Robert Redford, who also directed the film) tries to reinvigorate the mind of a once-brilliant student-turned-slacker.

The third thread follows two Army soldiers (Derek Luke and Michael Peña), former students of the Redford character who now find themselves fighting for their lives on the battlefield after a misfired strategy.

As you can tell, much of “Lions for Lambs” is comprised of lecturing and conversations amongst the characters. There’s not a whole lot of actual action (aside from some brief gunfights during the Army subplot), so those who admired the combination of politics and shoot-’em-up theatrics of screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan’s last picture, “The Kingdom,” may be in for a disappointment. But that doesn’t mean that “Lions for Lambs” should be counted out quite yet.

The film’s greatness lies with its ability to craft a compelling picture out of this mindset; it addresses how bogged down people are from hearing about Iraq, but it also conveys a message that this is still no good reason to feign inaction when there’s still time to make a difference, no matter what side you’re on. It presents a multi-faceted discussion on military presence in Iraq, giving the audience points of view not only from those who want us to pull out now but also the politicos pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

Such strong thematic bearings are also boosted by one hell of a cast, with an especially great turn from Cruise, parlaying the ego many see him as possessing into his role as a crafty politician.
The tagline for “Lions for Lambs” reads, “If you don’t stand for something, you might fall for anything.” This describes the film’s philosophy to a tee, its strength resting not in picking a side but in inciting viewers to make whatever they feel is the right decision.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.