Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lions For Lambs Treads Too-Familiar Waters

In the opening minutes of “Lions For Lambs,” the playing field is blatantly laid out for us – a Senator looks at charts of declining approval levels, a journalist references her notebook, and a professor looks over his grade and attendance sheets. These are your characters. They like to write things down.

Over the next hour and a half, moving between story lines, “Lions For Lambs” weaves in the story of two buddy-soldiers and former students of Professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) who may not survive their tenure in Iraq. Their story is the background to Malley’s new quest – convincing ace student slacker Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield) to apply himself so that history does not repeat itself.

Meanwhile, on Capital Hill, Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) has called a meeting with seasoned journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) to convince her he a) has a new plan for Iraq, b) is not creepy. Sadly, he doesn’t quite succeed at either.

While I cannot begrudge Mr. Redford for wanting to put together a piece commenting on the current state of international affairs – what with “Rendition,” “Redacted,” “In the Valley of Elah,” “The Kingdom,” and probably “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” (though I haven’t seen it) it’s the in vogue thing to do – but it seems that there is nothing truly daring offered by this film.

While we may be anticipating the new decisions to be made by the characters, it seems that they should have realized the need for new decisions long ago. While the ever-amazing Streep delivers a charming breakdown, one can’t help but feel her character should have experienced this decades before.

The statement Redford seems to want to make is that unless we act with a conscience, we will never escape this struggle.

But considering the methodologies this film chooses to employ, there are too many other films that make greater use of these methods. We’ve seen the story of a young hot-shot slacker getting schooled by a Vietnam-vet professor (“Good Will Hunting”), we’ve seen career-driven characters facing crises of conscience (“Jerry Maguire,” “Broadcast News”), and of course we’ve seen countless send-ups of the TV news business (put “Wag the Dog” back in your NetFlix queue).

While the message is indeed heartfelt, perhaps the film is like Redford himself – best looked at through a very soft-focused lens.

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