Lions for Lamb
Rated R; Directed by Robert Redford; Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, Derek Luke, Michael Peña, Andrew Garfield
Robert Redford’s latest film, Lions for Lambs is ambitious. He attempts to put the pieces together on how our nation ends up sacrificing young men and women in war and how various people play their roles to allow or to stop this. As a topic it’s timely and worthy, but making a compelling movie seems difficult. I imagine that the last five years will offer excellent fodder for future moviemakers but Redford’s ambitions are only partly met with this talky film.
Lions for Lambs has three storylines. In the first we meet Janine Roth, an established reporter (played by Meryl Streep), who interviews a powerful Republican senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise). Irving has an exclusive story – the new strategy for fighting Al Qaeda. Yet Roth, while excited and flattered that she’s the reporter to receive this newsworthy largesse, questions the whys and hows of the plan. The second storyline is about two soldiers who are fighting in Afghanistan and are facing the results of Senator Irving’s plan. Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Peña) and Arian Finch (Derek Luke), as the lions to the war-planning lambs, may not survive on an Afghan mountaintop (these are the films more compelling moments). The third story in the film is about a professor (Redford) who meets with an under-ambitious student (Andrew Garfield) to discuss why a smart kid can’t seem to live up to his potential.
So three different stories, with two ending up as very talky and not providing much action – makes for a more cerebral film. Cerebral films are fine, but it needs to be offered more compellingly. A movie about the reporter who is not sure about the facts of a story could make for a movie on its own, as could the two soldiers’ tale, the weakest is the professor and the student. This segment though is used to highlight why the reporter and the soldiers face what they have to face.
Redford assembled a great cast. Streep and Cruise have fun playing off of each other. Cruise is perfect as a man who may or may not believe what he is saying. Peña and Luke create two characters that are sympathetic and Andrew Garfield makes an impression as the college student forced to argue with Redford’s professor.
Lions for Lambs makes some great points. Unfortunately it sacrifices an involving narrative to a plot that uses lecture to get those points across.