Redford’s “Lions” offers politics as entertainment
Recommending Robert Redford’s political talkfest “Lions for Lambs” feels akin to telling children to eat cauliflower. The film is a flawed, sometimes one-sided, altogether unfulfilling piece of dialogue-heavy narrative. But besides being like no other film out there, the movie makes you think.
Not everyone calls this type of mental health food entertainment, so “Lambs” is likely to tank at the box office. And even the left-leaning cadre of film critics isn’t embracing Redford’s film, perhaps because it actually displays a volley of both liberal and conservative ideas, and because both sides are portrayed at once equally persuasive and narrow. Still, Redford is to be commended for making a film that dares to navigate the “theater of ideas,” despite its flaws.
The film bounces between three primary stories. One is set in the office of polished, West Point-educated Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise in full hawk attack mode). Irving has invited a hardscrabble veteran journalist (Meryl Streep, brilliant as usual) to interview him because he wants to give her an exclusive on the administration’s new surge strategy in Afghanistan. (The storyline feels lifted from yesterday’s news-in a good way.) The two joust euphemistically and philosophically, the Senator carefully positioning his rhetoric, the journalist constantly probing for vulnerabilities.
Streep and Cruise are compelling, articulate, and a joy to watch.
Meanwhile, Redford plays a Poli-Sci professor at a California university who tries to encourage a bright but cynical student (Todd Hayes) to make something of his life. He counsels him with the fervor of an aging activist and surprisingly, offers as role models two of his students who enlisted to fight in the war in Iraq (Derek Luke and Michael Pena). While the professor laments their cause, he admires their willingness to act. The film’s lone action sequences follow the young men’s involvement in a dangerous Afghan mission that goes (unsurprisingly) awry.
The short running time and precise script work in the film’s favor. If both sides come out feeling equally justified or short-shrifted, perhaps Redford has accomplished what he set out to achieve. “Lions for Lambs,” doesn’t suggest easy answers. For once, Hollywood may be on to something.
Rated R for some war violence and language