– Summary –
Director : Robert Redford
Year Of Release : 2007
Principal Cast : Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Michael Pena, Andrew Garfield, Derek Luke, Peter Berg, Kevin Dunn.
Approx Running Time : 88 Minutes
Synopsis: Two determined high school students join the army at the urging of their college professor to “do something with their lives”.
What we think : Plodding, obvious moral story about choice, freedom, and the American Dream (or lack thereof) is strident in its mission statement, and sadly lacking in emotional truth. Redford’s direction is technically excellent, although at a creative or cerebral level, it just doesn’t come together.
Lions For Lambs is a subtle (well, maybe not subtle) attempt to uncover the thin veil of hypocrisy surrounding the war in Iraq, through a fictional three-string storyline between a College professor, a US senator and a reporter, and a pair of US soldiers stuck in a precarious position in hostile territory. It’s attempt to be a damning indictment of the war in Iraq is significant if only for the wonderful performance of Meryl Streep (who has hit something of a renaissance in recent years, doing everything from sharp political thrillers like this and The Manchurian Candidate, musicals like Mamma Mia, drama like The Hours and The Devil Wears Prada and kids films such as The Ant Bully) and the makes-it-look-easy style of Robert Redford.
To say that these two stars make this film is an understatement. Without them, even with Tom Cruise’s strangely (eerily) fanatical portrayal of a senator trying to remove his party from the mistakes of the past, Lions For Lambs would have been a fairly underwhelming state of affairs. Unfortunately, even with Streep and Redford and Cruise all going hard with their A-Games on, the film still has a strange feeling of trying too hard to make a point.
Redford’s college professor attempts to get to the bottom of why a star student is now under-performing, and this easygoing natural conversation underpins the very different feel the US soldiers stuck on a mountainside have going. Redford barely raises a sweat with his performance, and it’s hard to see this as being a stretch for him. It’s almost like he could have phoned it in. Perhaps, had he stayed behind the camera and given the role to somebody else, it might have made for a more…well, layered performance.
Cruise and Streep’s intellectual byplay is fascinating to watch, and it’s hard to understand why these two screen titans haven’t been seen on screen together before now. Still, Streep out-acts the Cruiser by a long way, the latter relegated to mugging and leering at his somewhat labored performance as he tries desperately to convince Streeps reporter character (and us) that what they want to do now is achievable and right. The US wants to change their tactics in the war on terror; with typical media cynicism Streep smells a fox in the hen-house…. And Cruise does all but bend her over his knee and spank her in order to prove they’re right.
A couple of young lads stuck in the snow after falling out a US military aircraft, surrounded by enemy combatants, running out of ammo, and struggling to see anything in the dark, is the third, and perhaps least crucial, plot line in the film. Their plight, as a counterpoint to the other two sequences, is magnified by Cruise’s magnanimousness, and humanized by Redford’s kudos to them as former students of his. The problem Lions For Lambs has is that it all feels a little too overt, a little too political for my liking. It’s a film with a definite agenda, and while I never considered the film to be as blunt as “we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq” it’s certainly bordering on the propagandist. The performances are all sincere, the direction and action all superb (what else can I expect from Redford, though…) but the film reeks of underachievement in it’s dramatic impetus. A great idea, not quite cooked well enough in the oven to achieve the perfect taste, for want of a metaphor.
I had hoped to be really impressed with this film, and with the exception of the above mentioned moments, I was left wondering what might have been; for all the sturm and drang, perhaps Australian audiences don’t appreciate this US-style political thriller as much as the US does. It’s good enough, but it could have been great.