Lions For Lambs
Review by Jack Foley
THE war on terror appears to be the topic of choice for most serious filmmakers at the moment as no less than 12 films will take a look at the issue over the coming months.
But while some have chosen to tackle it head-on by venturing into the frontlines of the various battles (such as Brian De Palma’s Redacted or Peter Berg’s The Kingdom), Robert Redford has chosen to examine things from a much wider perspective (as both star and director).
Hence, Lions For Lambs asks some very relevant questions about the current state of play and what it might take to win, as well as the responsibility of the citizen and the role that both teachers and journalists have to play.
The film picks up as ambitious US Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) confidently unveils a new war strategy in Afghanistan to sceptical reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) and attempts to convince her of its worth.
Meanwhile, an impassioned professor (Redford) attempts to inspire an apathetic student (Andrew Garfield) into making something of his potential, while two US soldiers (Michael Peña and Derek Luke) find themselves at the sharp end of the new Afghan initiative and battle to stay alive in hostile elements.
Incredibly, these stories unfold in just 86 tightly wound minutes and in real-time – a ploy that proves to be one of the film’s biggest assets.
Rather than battering you into submission with an interminable running time and heavy-handed preaching, Redford opts to keep things sharp and to pose questions that he never presumes to answer.
What’s more, as a renowned Hollywood liberal himself he deliberately avoids the temptation for some easy Bush bashing, preferring to give every character a valid point of view. It’s a welcome surprise, given that the screenplay was written by The Kingdom’s Matthew Michael Carnahan.
Hence, each one of the storylines makes for compelling viewing, even if there are times when the film appears quite naive.
Cruise and Streep are on terrific form as the Senator and journalist debating the most obvious questions, with the former already being tipped to land another Oscar nomination at the very least. There’s a genuine intensity during their scenes together that gives rise to some equally interesting questions.
But Redford and Garfield are equally as good as the professor and student whose witty back and forth has plenty for viewers to relate to. British newcomer Garfield more than holds his own against Redford and is clearly a talent to watch for the future.
If the Afghan scenes emerge as the film’s weak link due to the contrived nature of the scenario and its outcome, there’s still some good acting work to admire from Pena and Luke.
But the film does lose points for occasional lapses in narrative, including one jaw-dropping moment in which Streep’s journalist asks Cruise’s senator: “If we could win World War II in under five years, why can’t we triumph in Iraq?” Such comments detract from an otherwise intelligent experience and will surely grate with European audiences.
That said, Redford deserves praise for refusing to dilute things, especially in his depiction of Cruise’s senator who makes several compelling cases for his nation’s continued involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His biggest challenge, however, remains convincing viewers to see it in the first place, given the general feeling of apathy that has greeted most Iraq-based films so far – although the combined firepower of Cruise, Streep and Redford ought to bring its own allure.
Lions For Lambs is therefore a much better film than we could probably have anticipated – one that deserves to be seen and, crucially, discussed afterwards.
Running time: 86mins
UK DVD Release: April 21, 2008
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- Robert Redford interview
- Michael Peña interview
- Andrew Garfield interview
- Lions For Lambs photo gallery
- Check out photos from the UK world premiere
- Lions For Lambs UK world premiere report