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6 reviews, 25 user ratings

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Lions for Lambs
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by Eugene Novikov

"Liberal Hollywood - now with 75% more pedantry!"
3 stars

Jesus Christ, Redford, if you wanted to make a feature-length cinematic editorial, why didn't you just go balls-out and have done with it? The conventional wisdom will be that LIONS FOR LAMBS is stagey and talky -- a blatantly preachy liberal polemic. And so it is. But I want to suggest that the film would have been stronger, or at least more interesting, had Redford had the guts to go all the way. You want to lecture me? Then fucking lecture me. Don't shoehorn in a pair of soldiers trapped behind enemy lines for "excitement." It's disingenuous, not to mention gutless. If something's worth doing, it's worth doing right.

In the best liberal tradition, the movie is blisteringly angry and disarmingly optimistic at once. The battle between Tom Cruise's terrifying neo-conservative senator and Meryl Streep's deferential but deeply skeptical veteran reporter contains most of the cynicism. Matthew Michael Carnahan's screenplay handily captures both the rhetorical force and fundamental dishonesty of the neo-con arguments, and posits that members of the mainstream media (or the "MSM," as the internet acronym goes) are well-intentioned but basically helpless, carried along by wave after wave of destructive conventional wisdom -- e.g. that parroting partisan talking points constitutes "balance" in reporting. Cruise and Streep are fantastic; the former, in particular, scared the crap out of me.

You'll find the optimism in a parallel confrontation between Stephen Malley (Redford) and Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield), a student Malley calls into his office one morning. Malley sees in "promise" in Todd -- a genius IQ as well as more intangible forms of "potential" -- but also an increasing complacency, as evidenced by his increasingly frequent absences from class and plummeting engagement. He wants to spur the kid's idealism, make him think about what he's doing with his life, force him to consider what's at stake. Todd wants to know why he shouldn't go after the Good Life, a white picket fence and a nice income; he's smart enough to get it easily, and why shouldn't he? That seemed to me to be a good point. They talk and we listen.

If that sounds didactic, you don't know the half of it. But it's enjoyable, too, not least for seeing four terrific actors play four intelligent characters having a vigorous discussion about the issues of the day. And hey, we could use a seriously pissed-off movie about the disgrace that is American government at the moment; I can even see an argument for such a movie being as direct and confrontational as possible. I could have gotten on board with what Redford was trying to do here. I might have gone against the grain and insisted that we needed this movie.

But, oh yes -- there's a third storyline fighting for screentime in the 88-minute film, and here Redford makes a huge mistake. This one involves a pair of Malley's former students (Michael Peña and Derek Luke) who, in a fit of enthusiasm, dropped out of school, joined the army and are now Rangers. While the Senator, the reporter, the teacher and the student sit in offices and debate, these two are about to parachute into enemy territory to capture a strategic position -- part of the new military offensive the Senator is enthusiastically pitching. An accident leaves them injured in a snowy Afghani wasteland, basically defenseless and surrounded by armed hostiles.

Everything about this subplot rubbed me the wrong way, and I'm not sure what wound up being the dealbreaker. Maybe it's that Peña and Luke are manifestly too old to play undergrads, and look absolutely ridiculous in flashbacks. Maybe it's that the connections to the other stories are so nifty and contrived that they seem unserious. Maybe it's that though the behind-enemy-lines stuff is supposed to be "action" that propels the film it's actually kind of boring and I wanted to fast-forward through it. At any rate, the addition renders the film overstuffed, disjointed, and several orders of magnitude more pretentious than it otherwise would have been. It's a mess and a shame.

I leave for another day the troubling implications of the fact that it's apparently fallen to Robert Redford to say some of the things that Lions for Lambs expresses in its eloquent rage. I'm grateful to him for it. But his movie doesn't quite get there. Cutting out the objectionable segments would have basically resulted in a straight-up lecture, and I don't know how good a movie that would have made. But it would have been better than the mish-mash actually before us. I wanted to like it, and I couldn't do it.

(Reprinted from Filmblather.com)

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16774&reviewer=419
originally posted: 11/09/07 03:50:09
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User Comments

12/08/17 morris campbell interesting film 4 stars
12/21/09 mr.mike I don't agree with it's politics but Redford keeps it from being overly stagy. 3 stars
2/04/09 Faraz J I likde Redford and Cruise. But the movie wa too much talkie talkie. Here to have fun dude. 1 stars
4/06/08 Arcane Excellent movie. Excellent acting. Should be watched. 5 stars
1/25/08 Gretchen Seitz Cruise's accidental portrayal of unintended protagonist can't save film from endinglessness 2 stars
1/24/08 Courtney (almost as bad as tennis elbow) Unappealing leftist propaganda masquerades as war suspense film until lack-of-ending. 2 stars
1/07/08 Double M Mr. Redford, the "wtf-is-a-debate?" crowd wants The Patriot. Make dumb blockbusters instead 4 stars
11/28/07 Abhishek Chakraborty Damit. I wasted my money seeing this film. I wish I'd read efilmcritic first 2 stars
11/24/07 LABELESS worthseeing. Redford is a much needed voice 5 stars
11/18/07 WillReadmore One election didn't fix everything. So don't vote? GenX=wimp. 4 stars
11/14/07 deidre It was intense and if the viewer was not mentally lazy had very healthy messages 4 stars
11/14/07 Joe Smaltz I'm already anti-war, the movie draged, and was very predictable. Needed some tobasco. 3 stars
11/13/07 Hotshot This film sucks ass! Don't waste your money... 1 stars
11/13/07 D If i want to be preached to I will go to church! 1 stars
11/13/07 Naurto No, it's more like you have to be a really dull person to "get" the film. 1 stars
11/13/07 JHensley This was an excellent film. If you don't get it, you're the problem. 4 stars
11/12/07 Debra Sine I am democrat, however, I still love my Country. Save your money. 1 stars
11/12/07 cbid So much wasted potential with this movie's theme. Hollywood writers should stay on stike 3 stars
11/12/07 Lou Redford is a bore, Cruise is a fool 1 stars
11/12/07 Neddymac Provocativismo! Bravo for the thought stimulation! 5 stars
11/11/07 Eva I guess you have to be over 40 to 'get' the film 5 stars
11/11/07 Realist No one wants to see a movie portraying out military as a bumch of losers. 1 stars
11/11/07 DonnyM What a joke film. 1 stars
11/09/07 Chugger This blows so hard and I'm a Democrat 1 stars
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  09-Nov-2007 (R)
  DVD: 08-Apr-2008



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