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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Lions for Lambs (review)

Roman Firefighters

How do you solve a problem like America? Where do you even start? Everything — the war, the demagoguery, the blanket repeal of civil liberties, the whole big mess — seems so entrenched and so intertwined that it’s paralyzing. I’m so hopeless these days that things will ever get better, to the point where I’m not sure I can take yet more rehashing of the fiasco.
So that’s where I was when I approached Lions for Lambs. Another movie about the Iraq/Afghanistan clusterfuck and the “war on terror”? There’s been so many of them lately (some of which haven’t been released yet, but that I’ve seen, and been devastated by; I’m thinking of Brian De Palma’s Redacted, particularly), which is perfectly understandable. It’s like we’ve all come to this point at the same time, of waking up a little bit, maybe, from the shellshock of the rush to invasion in 2003 and looking around and saying, Shit, this war is still on? And then comes the impetus to try to make some sense of it.

But sense has been made — many of these movies (In the Valley of Elah, Home of the Brave, the muckraking work of documentarian Robert Greenwald such as Uncovered: The War on Iraq) have helped shape our understanding of how FUBARed the war is. Now the question is: What do we do about it? No movie has even attempted to ask that question, never mind answer it, till this one. Lions for Lambs, it transpires, is not just more kicking around of the ball. It’s the most frank discussion yet about the war and the state of this country I’ve seen at the movies, one that tries to capture the situation realistically and intelligently and without indulging in dogmatic ideology. If it made me both sad and hopeful at the same time, well, that’s because there isn’t going to be an easy answer, and it’s going to take us longer to dig ourselves out than it took us to dig ourselves in.

A generation, maybe. That’s the hard answer that comes out of the triptych of interconnected stories here. All on one morning, at precisely the same hour, TV journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep: Rendition, Evening) interviews a hotshot young Republican senator, Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise: Mission: Impossible III, War of the Worlds), about his new initiative to take back the high ground — morally and militarily and practically — in Afghanistan; two young American grunts, Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Peña: Million Dollar Baby, Crash) and Arian Finch (Derek Luke: Catch a Fire, Friday Night Lights), find themselves in the hot middle of Irving’s Afghan minisurge; and California college prof Stephen Malley (Robert Redford [An Unfinished Life, The Clearing], who also directed) tries to wake up the soul and conscience of a promising student, Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield: Doctor Who), who is squandering his gifts.

There are surprises in how the stories interconnect — some are, perhaps, rather foreseeable, but how they develop is not. What’s important, though, is not so much the drama onscreen — even if it does end up being more riveting than you might imagine it could be, as talky as the movie is — but the ideas it represents. This is one of those movies I was thinking about the other day, one of those “not just a movie” movies: it could jumpstart new dialogue that could get us past that hopeless funk that seems to blanketing so many of us of late. If we let it.

You don’t even need to agree with everything said here to appreciate that there’s something new being said, and that that can be the beginning of a new approach. Cruise’s neocon young Republican is a bit terrifying, in fact — he says things like, “Do you want to win the War on Terror? Yes or no?” which is one of those “So, when did you stop beating your wife?” questions that forces you to accept suppositions that you might not want to accept. The hippie 60s idealism of Redford’s professor might be a tad too optimistic, the cynicism of Garfield’s student a bit too easily altered, the nobility of Peña and Luke’s soldiers a bit too convenient.

But it’s all okay. Because underneath it all, for all its wonkishness and pragmatism, Lions for Lambs is an oddly compassionate and affectionate ode to the muscle of youth, the wisdom of age, and to the possibility of getting both of them — and those of us in the middle — working together to affect change on the deepest levels.

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MPAA: rated R for some war violence and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
  • Patrick

    Don’t forget “Shut Up and Sing” in that list. It is one of the most chilling indictments of blue-vs-red-state/post-9/11 America I have ever seen.

    As for “Lions For Lambs”, I’ll definitely check it out!

  • Russ

    I know what Mary Ann is saying, but will opt to rent this out on DVD, after reading all the other mostly all negative US critic reviews LFL has got, that are a little harsher on the film, but at least give some valid reasons why. I expect North American audiences will mostly stay away from the film.

  • MaryAnn

    Of course North American audiences will stay away from this film: they stay away from anything that can help them understand how truly fucked we are. Because *they don’t want to know.* No one gives a shit about anything, it seems, unless it concerns Britney Spears or missing blond women.

  • dgrhm

    The real solutions to the mess we’ve made over the last several years isn’t going to come from political leaders, it’s going to come from us.

    We’ve got to get informed, get organized, and get active. Then elect people from the ground up who are willing to work for the betterment of our communities and for our country.

    Publicly funded elections would be a good start. The tweedle dum / tweedle dee politics of the GOP and the Dems is not working to solve issues that really effect most Americans.

    If we don’t get to work, we’ll get the country we deserve.

    I’ll get off my soap box now.

  • MaryAnn

    The real solutions to the mess we’ve made over the last several years isn’t going to come from political leaders, it’s going to come from us.

    That’s the point *Lions for Lambs* is trying to make, actually. You might want to check out the film.

  • Steve Taylor

    Bravo, MaryAnn, I knew you would get this movie right! I saw it on opening day, and had already noticed reviews that barely tolerated it, so I went in with dread. I came out fired up, and can hardly wait to recommend it to my friends and listeners. I’ve long felt that Cruise will play to the level of the script, and here he’s really scary good. But it did look like Meryl Streep’s journalist sold out again at the end. I liked the idea of doing the whole film in real time, which added a sense of urgency.

  • Anne

    The New York Times didn’t think much of LFL in it’s negative review and Roger Ebert gave LFL two and a half stars in his mostly negative review (I expected that he’d have liked it). It’s interesting seeing MGM give LFL a day and date release pretty much the world over, as it’s unlikely to pay off in financial – box office terms (since the cost of doing so would be much higher than the film’s low $US 35 mill budget), due to the high costs involved (it costs about about a $US 100 mill to do a date and date release the world over, with the cost of prints, hence the reason why the studios usually only do it for their more bigger budgeted tentpole films, not for serious dramas).

  • Roger

    A North American box office result of $US 2.2 mill (as of Saturday) is a pretty abysmal and disappointing, but not terribly unexpected result for LFL. I’ll wait for DVD, but the main thing I picked up from most of the all negative US reviews I read, is LFL doesn’t say anything about America’s involvement in Iraq that most filmgoers don’t already know. If the actors in this project weren’t so full of themselves (in regards to their attitudes to TV), this should’ve really been done
    as a network TV movie, so as many people as possible in the US would’ve got to see it.

  • D

    I appreciated the challenge for each of us to live more consciously, and agreed with most of the opinions in the film, but the method Redford used to get these points across was so offensive, I found the movie unwatchable. For a full description of this dangerous film (though not politically), check out my review HERE

  • We at http://www.action4justice.com (AXJ) have very much enjoyed this movie since many of us feel reflected in the students and soldiers 40 some years ago while Vietnam was going on. Our Administration lied to us then same as our Administration has lied to us now. Sadam never had Weapons of Mass Destruction and Cheney and Bush should be impeached for lying to the American People. Our Media is also responsible for selling a lie to the American people and not rectifying. They will start hurting now, as thousands of websites not only like ours, but all the grass roots meetups around Dr. Ron Paul start igniting the flame of Truth, Freedom, Justice of a great Republic that we are. One such Organization is AXJ and specifically Latinos for Dr. Ron Paul ( http://www.latinoronpaul.com ) which is getting the message of peace to our Latinos in the USA. Time for a change of Government. All of them. AXJ

  • MaryAnn

    it did look like Meryl Streep’s journalist sold out again at the end.

    Yes, she did. The point was that she lacked the courage of her convictions, perhaps mostly because she was shackled by financial and other practical matters, while the younger generation should feel freer to do what they know is right because they’re not yet deep in debt or bound to other obligations.

    D: If you want to talk about the film, please tell us your objections and why you found it offensive.

  • D

    “Lions for Lambs” is not a bold film because it points out hypocrisy, short-sightedness and a general lack of historical perspective when it comes to the current United States war policy—which it does, by the way. It is a bold film because of its stubborn adherence to shoehorning in every possible talking point about western civilization and its penchant for war, with nary a thought towards pacing, believable dialogue, a compelling plot, visual storytelling or character. And it is a dangerous film because it seems to carry on a discouraging new trend in movie-making. This brand of insulting preachiness has become more than acceptable lately. It is now, sadly, in vogue. Even though it raises legitimate points, Redford’s movie is equally offensive—not in message, but rather in method. Because of this, it just doesn’t work. We are too smart for this kind of cheap trickery. Like “Crash,” it sets up false expectations for flimsy character types whose discourse is limited to one specific topic and then dashes those expectations to the ground for its own didactic purpose.

  • Yes, it was indeed a “bold” film in that as a movie it presented the director’s point of view regarding a political situation in the world. The truth of the matter is we FREE Americans are sick and tired of supporting the rest of the world. You lazy Europeans go back to WWII, perhaps it should have ended a different way and cost US less money. We are tired of fighting your wars and American Soldiers will not pay with one more life. You handle your problems with the middle east, we are out of there in less than 1 year. We are going to elect Dr. Ron Paul and become a great respected Republic again. Don’t like it. Tough. Don’t even think of coming to the USA. http://www.action4justice.com

  • MaryAnn

    I’ll just say how hilarious it is to see D’s comment and AXJ-USA’s back to back.

  • Once again the British badmouthing US and our Directors. Robert Redford is one of the best actors and directors in the world. Like it or not he is doing a good job of critizing our modern world and especially the hypocresy of some…As for the Brits and Europeans, first put your houses in order. First Judge your Queen for Treason and cut a few heads off like the French had the guts to do in 1789. Who really killed Lady D? Was it the British M5, Secret Service, James Bond, or was it the French that covered it all up for you. Why isn’t this supposed Trial taking place in Paris, France where Lady D and Jodi were assassinated? “Make it look like an accident”…and they did. We are cleaning up our act and on Nov. 20, 2007 we will publish the fotos of who really murdered JFK…Stay tuned and pass it on. AXJ-The only true INDEPENDENT UN BIASED MEDIA IN THE MODERN WORLD…AXJ…THREE LETTERS…AXJ

  • MaryAnn

    (munches popcorn, waits for AXJ’s next post…)

  • AJP

    Wow. I didn’t think it possible for anyone to be less coherent than LaRouche, but AXJ seems to have accomplished this feat.

  • FBI Raids Liberty Dollar – Confiscates All Ron Paul Dollars
    Bernard von NotHaus, WhatReallyHappened.com

    [rest of rant deleted by MAJ]

  • MaryAnn

    Nope, sorry, AXJ, this is not a forum to post wildly off-post stuff. You wanna rant about *Lions for Lambs,* fine. Other stuff, no.

  • OK, great movie. Tells the truth about this illegal war. What else can we say? That is why we are trying to impeach Cheney and Bush. Anything else?

  • Mat

    I think AXJ is a pretty good spokesman for the antiwar cause. He seems to be a little too reserved though. You need to open up a little more if you want to be a part of the cause AXJ.

  • Burt

    Based on the disastrous US and overseas result, the LFL film (which really should’ve got a limited release) will surely post a considerable loss, especially with the foolish (and expensive) move to roll it out the world over, in the same week.

  • Mat

    Good post by D (11/12/07). Great points. It is nice to see an open minded review.

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