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Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for the biggest disappointment of the year.

Please, don’t translate that as me saying, “This is the worst film of the year,” because it’s not. It’s not really a bad movie, but Lions for Lambs should be so much more than one big preachy message. Based on the details of the film, it has “Oscar” written all over it: the movie stars Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise (who, no matter what you think of him, was great in Magnolia and Born on the Fourth of July), and it’s directed by Robert Redford (responsible for the beautiful Ordinary People and magnificent Quiz Show). Lions for Lambs works for a bit, but it fizzles and turns sour when we discover the movie’s true colors: a lack of a challenging point-of-view, despite what Redford says it’s about.

The story develops as three events happening at the same time. One is in Washington, D.C. between Jasper Irving (Cruise), a senator, and Janine Roth (Streep), a liberal-minded journalist who works for a conservative corporate news channel. The two discuss ideas that are intended solely to set up issues of both sides of the political spectrum, which are never toppled or supported. As a matter of fact, they’re never resolved.

On the opposite coast of the U.S., Professor Stephen Malley (Redford) tries to persuade Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield), a highly intelligent but very lazy student, to participate more politically in society. Then, there are two soldiers (Michael Peña and Derek Luke) fighting in Iraq who were convinced by Malley’s take-part-in-society speech and volunteered in the Iraq conflict in order to make a difference.

Given that the great majority of events take place in these three locations, the movie is very talky. I like plays, and I like to talk, so I didn’t find this alone to be a downside to the film. The dialogue is weak in parts, though, and since the movie is built on speaking, some scenes just fall apart. One obvious example is when Irving makes a “big speech,” and the camera slowly moves in, the orchestra slowly getting louder. I assumed it was a joke, a way of Redford showing Irving as a joke (especially since Cruise seems to be doing his best John Edwards impression). Apparently not, given that he repeats this technique with at least one or two other characters.

I actually agree with a lot of the political ideas that Redford lays bare in this movie, so it’s not a matter of him being a liberal. But there’s no structure for the rants: one can’t just speak his philosophy and expect people to find it intriguing or entertaining. Redford seems most keen on getting his two political cents across: “serve your country” by protesting and picketing, and don’t “serve your country” by physically fighting for something you feel strongly about (as his past students do in Iraq). Everything else Redford has learned about filmmaking just falls by the wayside, especially how to provide closure for a movie. The last few images are shameless, and shame on Redford for using them. He ends up not taking a stand, and I expect more from the director. Maybe if he could have found a more solid point-of-view, we’d actually have a good movie on our hands.


One Comment

    • Chris O'Donnel and Drew Barrymore in Mad Love
    • Posted November 7, 2007 at 8:43 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    There’s a scene in the classic German film D.C. Cab in which Herr T. makes a speech and the crescendo/slow zoom effect is used amazingly.

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