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All I have heard about Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs, Tom Cruise’s first foray with his United Artists studio, is that it is boring, long, and anti-war to the fullest. Even with that going in, I couldn’t stop thinking how intriguing the second trailer was. I mean this has a killer cast and what is becoming a very capable screenwriter. Considering Matthew Michael Carnahan’s first script being pro-war, The Kingdom, and the screen time of this film being barely over 90 minutes, I needed to see if the detractors were right. After experiencing it firsthand, I see once again how you can’t always go by what critics say. Critics need to start making their reviews what they are, opinion, and not fact. Movies are a flexible medium letting their viewers decide for themselves what the true meaning is. With this one, I have to say I was entertained almost the entire time.

If you are not partial to a film with non-stop talking, don’t even attempt to see this. What little action you may think is included during the battle scenes does not exist. Our army men are either in camp discussing their mission or injured and unable to move on the front lines, the action in those moments come from the words spoken. As far as the liberal slant, there are multiple instances of ranting and agenda pushing. However, while not agreeing with the content, I have to admit it is all well written and entertaining to listen to both it and the retorts thrown back. Carnahan has, if nothing else, crafted a story that weaves together three different vignettes and environments to become one cohesive tale of politics and war. I was enthralled throughout, minus one scene that completely did not work for me. All actors involved get plenty of face time and do a nice job with it.

The shining third is, without question, the battle section. Both Derek Luke and Michael Peña are fantastic as old friends who have gone through the rough neighborhoods of city life to the tough work ethic of college to volunteering in the army so that they can be involved in the biggest issue happening. These two gentlemen do not want to be on the sidelines just talking about what is going on in the world. Rather than stay in the shadows at school, debating what is occurring far, far away, they take it upon themselves to step up and try and do something about it. By spending their time in the service they will be able to go to graduate school on the government’s dime. When we become privy to a flashback of their class project, I must say I was blown away. It is easy to say for me from where I am sitting, but their idea of forgoing a year of high school in order to enlist kids in a year program either with the ROTC or inner city help is something that really got me thinking. Our country is full of kids who just coast through life without the necessity to do anything. Their ability to steer clear of conflict only helps politicians mold their minds into thinking what they want. Rather than become involved, our society has been given allowance to go home, make money, and let everyone else worry about what is going on. You can’t be allowed to speak out against the government or the army if you yourself aren’t willing to become educated to the issues and go in to try and change it. Words are one thing; action is totally different. The back and forth between the two students and the rest of the class is great, and when they shut them up it is a stunning piece of cinema—a moment that is surprisingly one-upped by their story’s conclusion.

As for the rest, I enjoyed Robert Redford’s attempt to let a fire under his prize student who has decided to become a lamb rather than keep the lion’s instinct as he had at the beginning of the semester. It is an interesting outlook on the subject, very liberal, but also intuitive to the reasons behind a decision and not just the decision itself. While he disapproved of his former star students’ enrolling in the army for a fight that is unwarranted in his mind, he can still see the merit in why they chose to go that way. Redford’s is a complex character that works well as the lynchpin between two of the three stories. The third, on the other hand, is the least integral to the film. While the back and forth between senator and reporter, Cruise and Meryl Streep respectively, has some great moments of debate, it is a tad misleading. I thought Cruise was great as the fast-talking Republican getting his agenda to the media and calling out the liberal reporter. He shuts her up a couple times with his mention of how the media is what sold the war in the first place and that they have the luxury of hindsight while he does not. If you are in the position he is, one can’t wait for retribution and risk a second attack by appearing weak. There is no Monday morning quarterbacking when the lives of your country are on the line.

By showing both sides of the conflict’s political barometer and glorifying the soldiers as heroic, I left the film thinking it was somewhat even-keeled. Maybe this is because Meryl Streep is so horrible acting-wise, but I felt they almost used the liberalism as a mock of itself, but that could be her mistake. She is called out in Cruise’s office for being the cause and yet still has the gall to scream about how he is going to try and start a nuclear war in front of her editor, the one scene that did not work for me at all. She is so over-the-top that I thought it was a shot at the liberal detractors who use their own paranoia to blow things out of proportion. However, there are many moments showing the “incompetence” and two-face mentality of the conservatives too. Cruise’s declaration of “let me make this as loud as possible, I will not run for President” was just too convenient a mirror to a statement earlier in the film. While as a whole it entertained me, Lions still had many moments of agenda forcing—from both sides of the coin—that took me away from what worked.

Lions for Lambs 7/10

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photography:
[1] TOM CRUISE stars in United Artists/MGM Pictures’ LIONS FOR LAMBS (2007). Photo by: David James.
Copyright © MGM. All Rights Reserved.
[2] MICHAEL PENA (left center) and DEREK LUKE (right center) star in United Artists/MGM Pictures’ LIONS FOR LAMBS (2007). Photo by: David James. Copyright © MGM. All Rights Reserved.

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