Judge Mike Rubino is loudly declaring that this movie is boring.
If you don't STAND for something, you might FALL for anything.
Hollywood's onslaught of Iraq-war-themed films continues, this time with the resurrected United Artist's first new movie: Lions for Lambs. Directed by and starring Robert Redford, alongside a top-tier cast featuring Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep, Lambs tells a three-fold story about hawkish politics, cynical news media, and the definition of patriotism.
Facts of the Case
Lions for Lambs simultaneously tells three tales in pseudo real-time all dealing with the idea of engagement.
Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) is behind a brand new military initiative that will hopefully turn the tides on the war in Afghanistan. In order to build up good press for the strike, he calls in jaded veteran reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep). While the two of them duel over the ethics of the Iraq War and strategy, the military strike begins.
On the frontlines of the strike are Lt. Arian Finch (Derek Luke, Antwone Fisher) and Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Peña, Shooter). Their mission is to secure a plateau in the mountains of Afghanistan, but when their helicopter is attacked, the two find themselves stranded on a mountainside surrounded by Al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, Professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford), who taught those two soldiers years prior, is meeting with Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield). Hayes is a bright kid who shows lots of promise, but is becoming cynical and apathetic in today's America. Prof. Malley has one hour to convince him to fight for his grades and try and change the world.
It's clear that Robert Redford, who's long been an outspoken member of the anti-war movement, had a specific artistic vision for his latest film. Rather than taking the low road of hyperbolic rants and crass outrage, he would present a measured morality play that would calmly represent the current debate going on in America. Armed with a script by Matthew Michael Carnahan (who wrote the slightly-more-successful war film The Kingdom), Redford made a film that manages to actually make war boring.
The three-fold story idea isn't a bad one, except that it never really feels justified or connected. Much like Vantage Point, which rewound itself in order to show you the same scene from different angles, the film's "gimmick" never feels warranted or necessary. Redford and Carnahan had a lot they needed to preach about engagement and self-interest, and so they had to spread it out amongst various scenes and characters, but this disjointed approach left me not caring about any of these people.
The characters in Lions for Lambs are more or less representative of the varying sides to the Iraq War argument. They're one-dimensional caricatures of "the realist reporter," "the neo-conservative senator," and "the inspiring professor" that come off as stiff and unoriginal, despite the big-name celebrities. Each character has a partisan line to speak behind, and Cruise, Redford, and Streep are pretty good at it. But it feels like Carnahan wrote a script intending to summarize the past six years of debate on the issue. What this means is that much of the movie feels dated, as the conditions and headlines about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars change every day.
When the film was first released in theaters, it was marketed as a taught political drama; now that it's out on DVD, the packaging and commercials make it seem like an action-packed war flick. If I had to pick one, I'd say the former is truer than the latter. One third of this movie takes place in Afghanistan, following two soldiers who enlisted together as friends. Oddly enough, these war sequences are the most boring parts of the film. They're dark, muddy, and cheap looking (the CGI helicopters look especially bad). It's possible that Redford wasn't seeking to glorify war and violence with these sequences, but it sure looks like the marketing department is.
Although there is little action in the film, it does have an excellent, pounding score by Mark Isham. The DVD release of Lions for Lambs features some robust sound options, with Dolby Digital and DTS surround. Sadly, I can't say that the video is as good. The dark levels during the war scenes are way too strong, making it very hard for me to even tell what was going on. Scenes taking place in the various offices, however, looked fine.
This single disc release has a few special features that help expound upon the film. Robert Redford provides a commentary track, allowing him to give us a play-by-play as to what we're seeing and his own personal political views behind the film. It's fairly interesting if you agree with him, and not really so if you don't. There is also a standard making-of featurette and an expanded look at the script-to-screen process. Finally, there are a handful of trailers and a United Artists promo.
Out of all the political movies Hollywood has churned out lately, Lions for Lambs is one of the lamer affairs. It's a talky retread of political arguments over the past six years that would make for a great high school social studies program. There are opportunities in the film for emotional pay-off, but the lack of any sort of cohesion between the three stories or likeable characters spoils that.
GUILTY of making even war seem boring.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: United Artists
• Commentary by Robert Redford
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