Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Derek Luke, Michael Pena.
Matthew Michael Carnahan
As I was watching "Lions for Lambs," the Robert Redford-directed Oscar bait starring Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep, I found myself flashing back to Leonardo DiCaprio's recent "11th Hour," a self-righteous, histrionic call-to-action that managed to practically repeat Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" but paint it with prettier pictures.
While "Lions for Lambs" isn't a documentary, it plods along with the sensibility of a documentary intent on selling its point with scenarios that never feel authentic or, for that matter, very interesting.
Essentially, "Lions for Lambs" is a gabfest centered on U.S. involvement in Iraq. The problem in creating a gabfest with Hollywood stars is that, well, it's impossible to forget you're looking at Hollywood stars.
For example, one of the film's three scenarios involves a reporter (Meryl Streep) interviewing a Republican senator (Tom Cruise). The opportunistic senator, who may very well remind you of any number of current politicians, is all patriotic "rah rah" in offering the reporter a "breaking story" component to America's Iraqi strategy, but the interview becomes a tad fiery when the reporter starts making stronger points than the senator.
Now then, the problem is that throughout this entire interview it appears nothing more than Meryl Streep interviewing Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise preparing to go on another one of his rants. As a spoken word performance, the scenario may have played beautifully, but as a key component in a full-length feature film it elicits not much more than boredom and really never leads anywhere.
In the second scenario, an academic gabfest, a professor (Redford) tries to inspire an under-achieving student (Andrew Garfield). This same professor inspired the two not-so gabby soldiers in the final scenario (Michael Pena and Derek Luke), who are in the mountains of Afghanistan acting out the military strategy of which the senator is speaking in the interview.
Now, oddly enough, I had to chuckle about halfway through the film as it dawned on me that "Lions for Lambs," scripted by Matthew Michael Carnahan, may very well make even the most devout Haggis-haters appreciate his scripts on a greater level.
With the exception of the two soldiers, the vast majority of "Lions for Lambs" is a dialogue-heavy discourse on the failures of U.S. military strategy. Unfortunately, much like the Democratic response to the strategy, the discourse is wishy-washy and lacking in clarity at best.
While it may seem a brilliant box-office move to have two Hollywood heavyweights such as Streep and Cruise going after one another, watching it unfold is almost like watching the two best debaters from a high school debate team argue AT one another rather than actually debating one another. Streep and Cruise project almost zero chemistry, not even of the hateful kind, and the end result is that the film's longest and most convincing scene is largely lacking in dramatic resonance.
Easily one of Oscar season's more disappointing entries, "Lions for Lambs" never escapes feeling like one of those irritating college lectures presented by the professor who is always condescendingly right. With an unsatisfying ending that only drives home the film's lack of clarity and cohesion, "Lions for Lambs" could only hope that the U.S. military will exit Iraq as quickly as audiences are likely to exit their local movie theatre.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic