Friday, November 16, 2007

Lions for Lambs

Welcome to this week's Iraq war film. But this time around, we give you only a little action and a whole lotta talkin’. Gifted Hollywood veteran Robert Redford starts and directs this tale of three different yet connected stories which are all told in real time. The film covers about 80 minutes of lengthy battles in offices and on war zones.

Tom Cruise plays a senator who has asked that a renowned journalist, Meryl Streep, come in for an interview involving a new military plan currently going on in Afghanistan. Two soldiers simultaneously carry out the plan, which goes wrong quickly. All while the soldiers’ old poli-sci professor, Robert Redford, coaches a promising, new student on the lessons of life. Get it?

The film cuts away often, in an attempt to keep things fresh. Action buffs will want to get back to the stranded soldiers (played by two always-reliable actors, Michael Peña and Derek Luke) who lay helplessly in the snow, awaiting rescue. Others will come to watch the big-name showdown between Cruise and Streep. But the real treasure is in Redford’s story. As he talks with one of his smart, lazy students, his eyes are full of regret as he remembers hopeful students he had years ago. Flashbacks help tie everything together as Luke and Peña display youthful ambition in their classroom discussions. Redford sees that ambition again in his new pupil and he be damned if it goes to waste.

If there is one thing Tom Cruise can do, its play a cocky, Republican senator, who preaches what he has been told to preach. Streep matches Cruise’s every word, wit for wit. Their interview becoming a fruitless, polite argument that neither are bound to fall from. I was amazed how modern the snappy dialogue was, it seemed like it was covering headlines from last week. The films capability of remaining vividly contemporary is one of its greatest feats.

The movies carries a few flaws (I never knew you could jump out of a moving helicopter hundreds of feet in the air) but it remains a notable piece of filmmaking, without ever really becoming important. Redford isn’t worried about conservative criticism; he made his über-liberal film how he wanted to. At times engrossing, at times preachy, Lions for Lambs, carries a bold message. The hard part is trying to figure out exactly what that message is. B

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