Lions for Lambs has a tagline that reads like the moral from one of Aesop’s fables: If you don’t STAND for something, you might FALL for anything. Directed by Robert Redford—his first stint behind the camera in seven years—and starring mega stars Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep, the film weaves three stories together to underline the importance of courage, honesty and standing up for what is right and what you believe in.
Cruise and Streep play a Republican Senator with a new plan for victory in the Middle East and a skeptical reporter. Redford is a college professor who spends his running time debating with a bright, but lazy student while Michael Peña and Derek Luke play college students who enlist in the army to help serve their country.
I’d say Redford balances these three storylines, but there’s nothing balanced about Lions for Lambs, and that’s OK, this isn’t a documentary and the filmmaker is entitled to his point of view. So instead of finding a way to juggle these story threads he jumps back and forth between them willy-nilly.
The problem with making socially conscious films is that occasionally the passion of the message trumps the director’s instincts as a filmmaker. Redford is clearly preaching from a hate the war but support the troops platform, but unfortunately it really feels like we’re being preached to. He forgoes most of the action, instead presenting one of the stagiest and wordiest movies of the year; pedantic beyond belief.
It’s more of a pastiche than a movie, with ideas bouncing off the viewer hard and fast from a number of sources. The trouble is the ideas seem hackneyed as though we’ve heard it all before. The script presents the idea that the press, by reporting on every move of the White House, may actually simply be acting as a PR arm of the government; that America’s kids don’t have a sense of social responsibility anymore, oh, and that old chestnut, War is Hell. It’s simplistic and for all its wordy bluster is about as deep as a lunch tray.
Lions for Lambs was clearly designed to spark debate among its viewers, but I would guess the only quest they’ll be asking when they leave the theatre is, “Why didn’t we go see No Country for Old Men instead?”