3.7 out of 5 stars
"Lions for Lambs" is a political commentary that offers glimpses on the society’s basic institutions including politics, journalism and mass media, and education, and how all these operate behind closed doors. Clocking in at 90 minutes, the film spans a single day as it shows the entire spectrum of the political agenda that defines the current state of American affairs. It clearly has the intention to spark political discourse about the ill effects of war, the needless sacrifices in the battlefield, and the civilians inciting long courses of debates about the issues relating to the poor and selfish decisions by the government and the other facets of the society.
"Lions for Lambs" revolves around essentially three settings affecting each other through courses of action and discussion. The film cuts back and forth between the three scenarios as the ambitious politician makes a bold military decision in Washington D.C., the veteran probing journalist tries to chase a “hot” story under intense pressure, and the earnest professor continues to lionize his students towards philosophical, political, and moral engagements. As a message-oriented feature, the three strands are effectively linked. The film carefully voices out different points of view in the manner of the dialectics of classical Greek philosophy, then presents them as timely issues on war and terrorism.
The story's drama is mainly shaped as a political tennis match between: the ambitious Sen. Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) and the unabashedly liberal broadcast journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep); the imperturbable political science professor Dr. Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) and the promising but lazy student (an idealistic youth turning into an apathetic civilian) Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield); and the young, brave idealists of the military troops sent to Afghanistan Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Peña) and Arian Finch (Derek Luke) against the surrounding shadowy armed figures of insurgents from the Afghan mountainside where their tragedy comes close.
Presented in debates and interrelationships and clearly dedicated to the current global political issues, "Lions for Lambs" becomes a provocative feature and a thinking person’s film. Dialogue-heavy and preachy as it is, its conversations are timely, and this tends to follow an engaging route with its political, social, and moral discourses. Matthew Michael Carnahan’s screenplay contains interrelated verbose speeches and patriotic lectures that become an urgent and stinging dramatic indictment of U.S. foreign policies and its war on terror.
As the story takes place on three tense and emotional fronts, the film’s treatment by director Robert Redford and the editing by Joe Hutshing reveal a repetitive pattern of conventional cross-cutting among the sequences. Most sequences are confined in single sets with most scenes set indoors – mainly the formal interiors of Irving's office in Washington and the relaxed, sunny campus quarters in California.
The only major outdoor location with night effect is Afghanistan's snowy caps set within the war-infested mountaintop. Director of photography Philippe Rousselot and production designer Jan Roelfs manage distinctive looks for each set with Mark Isham's low-key score backing up the necessary moods for the various fierce games of wits and war. Through flashbacks, the two young, military men trapped in the cold mountains of Afghanistan are also seen as Malley’s former students giving a presentation about their choice to engage.
The delivering cast generates the film’s engrossing moments. The pairing of veterans Cruise and Streep creates a good dynamism to the young, high-flying senator character of Cruise and the cynical reporter role of Streep. The two pros spark a smart and dynamic political conversation about the new strategy and plan of action for the war on terror. All these happen within the four corners of the office of the presidential hopeful and incumbent senator.
Irving grants the broadcast journalist an hour-long exclusive interview (as she has once written a flattering profile about him) meant to charm and flatter Roth into delivering a sensational story about the new offensive action in Afghanistan. The said action involves sending small Special Forces teams deep into the country’s cold, mountainous areas to secure advance positions and stop the small insurgent troops from uniting. After which, the emotionally struck Roth gets into a confrontation with her editor who's mostly interested in the rating of her show, while she chews the remnants of her staggering interview with Irving until her taxi cab scene where she gets reminded of the nationalism and morality involved in the world of war and politics.
Simultaneously, Redford plays the role of Dr. Malley, a former activist and an idealistic professor at a West Coast university. He shows power of words through a liberal, political, and philosophical conversation with his brilliant student whom he believes needs some firing up in order to fulfill his potential. He keeps up with his advocacy of having direct personal and political engagements vis-a-vis the cynicism, materialism, and complacency of the younger generation of students in his political science classes.
Meanwhile, in the heat of battle in Afghanistan, two of Dr. Malley’s former students, Rodriguez (Peña) and Finch (Luke) are sent on Irving’s secret mission to Afghanistan. Peña and Luke play the roles of the American soldiers trapped on the snowy mountain because of a stupid policy change. THey provide the needed charisma for their characters. Obviously, the two soldiers try to make a particular kind of demographics within the military as the two good friends and former classmates Rodriguez and Finch are Latino and black, respectively.
"Lions for Lambs" offers no answers; but it raises many significant questions. This film could serve as one form of an educational tool in schools, universities, and institutions to incite debates about politics, journalism, education, and the people’s stand on the ideas of personal and political engagements, cynicism, and apathy. It becomes an appeal to the neglected duties and responsibilities of the citizens of a democratic society.
The film’s responsible tone gets a little stagy at times, but overall, it still gets its primary message across. It drives itself as a sort of a wake-up call for the people to take a stand in the dismal state of current foreign affairs (specifically the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq), the political leaderships of the world, the military sacrifices made on false premises, and the men and women fighting and dying in the name of their countries.
Shortlist of Las Vegas stores where you can buy Blu-rays/DVDs:
4440 S. Durango Dr. Ste. E Las Vegas, NV 89147
3115 N. Rainbow Blvd. Las Vegas, NV 89108
8300 W. Cheyenne Ave. Las Vegas, NV 89129
9921 W. Charleston Blvd. Ste. 4 Las Vegas, NV 89117