Robert Redford’s new film, Lions For Lambs, is little more than a series of debates carefully staged to embarrass/provoke the current U.S. administration and to persuade people to vote Democratic in the next election – plus some war sequences to show the moronic approach of a wily young senator who might just want to become the next President of the United States.
There are three debates in Lions for Lambs: the debate between Senator Jasper Irving [Tom Cruise] and reporter Janine Roth [Meryl Streep] as he gives her an exclusive story on his new initiative in Afghanistan; the debate between Professor Stephen Malley [Robert Redford] and two former students who have decided to enlist and join the War on Terror – Ernest Rodriguez [Michael Pena] and Arian Finch [Derek Luke], and, finally, the debate between Malley and current student, Todd Hayes [Andrew Garfield.
The debates between Malley and his three students are about fulfilling potential, but both lead into discussions of the War on Terror – Malley figuring that the whole thing has been badly handled and is not a way to fulfill potential, Rodriguez and Finch signing up anyway, and Hayes left to try to figure out what he believes and what he’s going to do about it.
The military action involves the initiative that Senator Irving has devised and which is implemented even as he meets with Roth. We follow the platoon that includes Rodriguez and Finch – and is commanded from the ground by Lt. Col. Falco [Peter Berg] – who seems to be the only character who has no agenda other to do his job.
There are a lot of ideas bandied about in the various debates, but outside of a few good lines, the dialogue is forced and awkward. The only time the film feels like it has any pacing at all is during the military sequences that feature Rodriguez and Finch. The script, by Matthew Michael Carnahan, comes off as really bad Aaron Sorkin; the staging – outside of the Afghanistan sequences – is ponderous almost to the point of being stationary. The performances seem to be about political and moral zeal and do not really come across as being about the characters. Worse, the movie doesn’t so much come to a conclusion as just stop moving forward.
Had the script been from Sorkin [who is the undisputed master of the walk-and-talk] and directed by someone like Thomas Schlamme [who really understands how to stage a talky project], Lions for Lambs might have actually achieved its goals. Instead, it’s an almost sterile intellectual exercise – and for that reason, it is a failure on every level.
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