Directed by: Robert Redford
Premise: Taking place at the present, the story cuts between three different stories: a college professor (Robert Redford) meets with an apathetic student (Andrew Garfield), two of the professor’s former students (Michael Pena and Derek Luke) fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, and an ambitious Republican congressman (Tom Cruise) unveils a new military strategy to a seasoned news reporter (Meryl Streep).
What Works: The dialogue in the film is very sharp, which is important because Lions for Lambs has so much of it. Of the considerable talents involved, Streep comes off the best. Her role gives her the most to work with and she is able to embody the conscience of the film while delivering a genuine character with some authentic development and challenges.
What Doesn’t: Lions for Lambs is far too didactic for its own good. The film has some points to make and it stops just short of clubbing the audience over the head to make them. While merging politics and film can result in a wonderful product (as the career of Oliver Stone proves), the political agenda of Lions for Lambs comes at the cost of its storytelling. Despite a promising opening, the film quickly gets bogged down with the characters debating patriotism and foreign policy. As the film goes on it does very little else and the topics of discussion and the depth of that discussion barely penetrate the levels of discourse seen on talking head television programs on twenty-four hour news outlets. The result is a film that spends a lot of its time repeating and summarizing material that many audience members will already be familiar with and not add any new perspectives or manage to dramatize any of that material. Also, Lions for Lambs will not play very well in two years because it is so rooted in the current political situation involving Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and the United States. The film reaches for broader issues in the apathy of the millennial generation, and this is the one area of the film that claws at something new and fresh, but with the constant cross cutting between the other discussions there isn’t any real substance there.
Bottom Line: Lions for Lambs is a classic case of choir preaching in film. It gets bogged down in long dialogue sequences where plenty of political rhetoric and information are spilled but the film is unable to dramatize that information the way that superior films like Munich did.
Episode: #166 (November 11, 2007)