Lions For Lambs (2007)

(In theaters, November 2007) The particularity of this film isn’t as much in what it says that in how it says it. Sure, this is one of the boldest examples of 2007’s crop of movies asking “that war in Iraq wasn’t a good idea, wasn’t it?”, but the way it reflects upon the past few years is what sets it apart. While the trailer promises an action/adventure survival thriller partly set in Afghanistan, this aspect ends up forming a thin slice of the film, most of which is spent in a pair of conversations. First up is an interview between a journalist played by Meryl Streep (atoning for her turn in Rendition) and an unctuous senator played by Tom Cruise. The second conversation takes place between an ageing university teacher (Robert Redford, who also directs) and a student played by newcomer Andrew Garfield. Both conversations are battles for the souls of the people involved: Cruise is terrific as a senator selling a political stunt as a bold policy proposal, and gets one of the film’s best moments as he thanks the media for being complicit with government policies. Streep ends up being the one in the hot seat as she has to wonder where her ethics have gone. Meanwhile, Redford is trying to shock his student into doing something worthwhile with his life, with direct resonance for the audiences of the film. The give-and-take between the actors is good, and one could easily see this script being adapted for the stage theatre without much trouble. But as good as the dialogue is, Lions For Lambs falls short as a piece of cinematic entertainment: The static nature of the film isn’t patched by the tense Afghanistan segments that tie the two other conversations together. Those who enjoy a bit of philosophical discussion and talking-head films will get a kick out of the film, but audiences unwilling to play along may be bored out of their skulls. Still, it’s an unusual film, top-heavy with acting talent, and it finds a neat place in the national discourse. At a theatre otherwise dominated by Fred Claus and Bee Movie, that’s already not bad at all.

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