When the film Lions For Lambs was released last fall to a response that was deafening in its silence, conservative pundits immediately leapt to the attack claiming that its box office failure was due to Americans rejecting Hollywood’s alleged liberal, anti-American agenda or similar rantings. The logical fallacy here, of course, is that they proscribe only one possible reason to the film’s disappointing box office, not even considering alternatives such as the film may have been poorly marketed or that audiences may be tired of hearing about the war in Iraq and certainly didn’t want to see another film on it.
It strikes me as ironic that a film that at least acknowledges the complex web that is the issues and feelings surrounding the Iraq war has been roundly rejected by those pundits with such an un-nuanced argument.
The film runs three storylines that connect only in the briefest of ways. Meryl Streep is a skeptical journalist interviewing a rising star Senator played by Tom Cruise. The senator has a plan he feels could bring about a swift conclusion to the conflict in Iraq, though Streep’s reporter feels that his own political ambitions may be a driving factor in his strategy. Meanwhile, two soldiers (Michael Pena and Derek Luke) participating in the implementation of that plan find themselves stranded behind enemy lines, with their Army scrambling to effect a rescue. Half a world away, the soldiers’ former political science professor (Robert Redford, pulling double duty as the film’s director also) tries to reinvigorate the critical thought process in a promising student who has become apathetic towards his course work.
As to be expected from such a cast, there’s a number of great performances in the film. As the driven and charismatic politico, Cruise once again shows that he knows how to dominate the screen with a performance that never overpowers those he shares scenes with. As if he could overpower Meryl Streep. Redford and Garfield share an easy chemistry between them as the professor and student (Andrew Garfield) whose discussion has each challenging the other’s point of view.
The screenplay here is good, but not great. As each character is more of a proxy for one aspect of the ongoing discussion about the Iraq war, there is no real character development that anyone goes through. By fleshing out some past history between the pairs of characters, though, screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan does manage to keep things from becoming too didactic.
Lions For Lambs‘ transfer is as good as one expects from DVD at this point. The night scenes featuring the two trapped soldiers are rather dark and murky, but we can assume that was Redford’s intent.
There are many issues under discussion here and the disc’s extras attempts to add to the discussion. Redford’s commentary track goes into what he was trying to achieve with the film, while Carnahan gets his own featurette to discuss his process in creating the film.
Hopefully, people will discover this film in its DVD release, as it can serve as a good starting point for further examination of the country’s complex feelings over its current geopolitical situation.