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|Lions for Lambs|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Robert Redford|
scr Matthew Michael Carnahan
with Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, Andrew Garfield, Michael Peña, Derek Luke, Peter Berg, Wade Harlan, Jennifer Sommerfield, Louise Linton, Muna Otaru, Michael Peoples
release US/UK 9.Nov.07
07/US United Artists 1h24
How did we get here? Streep and Cruise
The title misquotes the famous line "lions led by donkeys", describing WWI British ground troops and their officers. And this is indicative of the entire film's refusal to engage with truth while pretending to be something profound.
A veteran journalist (Streep) is given a one-hour interview with a Republican senator (Cruise), who announces a new tactic to finally track down and stop the Taliban. Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the operation kicks off, and two young troops (Peña and Luke) are stranded on a snowy Afghan ridge with enemy soldiers on the way and a rescue operation hampered by the weather. At the same time in California, a smart-but-lazy student (Garfield) meets with his politics professor (Redford) for a pep-talk stressing the importance of putting feet to opinions.
In addition to the muddled title, the film's core question is completely off-base "Do you want to win the war on terror? Yes or no?" This is framed as "the most important question of our time" and yet it ignores the even more important question: Is there actually a "war on terror"? Probably not, but this film consists only of academic discussions that are loaded with fake intellectualism. It doesn't actually say anything.
This leaves the impressive cast without much to do. Streep invests the most into her character--we see her curiosity and self-doubt. But Cruise is mere cocky jingoism, Redford is just liberal wooliness, and Garfield smirks through a badly undefined role. Only Peña and Luke have characters with story arcs, as we see them in flashback as Redford's students who make a shocking decision to be proactive with their political beliefs. But they're trapped in the snow for much of the film, just as inert as the others behind their desks.
The barrage of political dialog leaves the film feeling like a dry episode of The West Wing, but without the wit, insight or kinetic camera work. Carnahan's shallow script tries to touch on serious issues (such as how fear "caused" us to make bad decisions in the wake of 9/11), but it just talks in circles. Yes, engagement needs to take over from apathy. But we first need to admit that our leaders are donkeys, not lambs.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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