Lions For Lambs

Lions For Lambs

**

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

After Man Of The Year, for the second time in as many weeks I find myself wondering how such a top-notch cast came to be associated with such a poor film. Thoughts of lions and lambs romp through your brain, only to be replaced by turkey.

Tom Cruise (proving what a powerful actor he can be, even when faced with this snore of a script) is a congressman with a plan to “win” in Afghanistan. With a gung-ho “whatever it takes” attitude, he has called Meryl Streep’s middle-aged reporter to his office to outline his plan and ensure that it gets the right spin when presented on TV. The plan is to “take the high ground” – ooh, feel the depth of the metaphor – by capturing strategic mountaintops with small platoons of men. Streep recalls Vietnam, and chips in with occasional query, but this is essentially Cruise’s show and he powers through the ponderous and didactic script like an iceberg, sweeping all before it.

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Meanwhile, over at a university, Robert Redford’s bleeding heart liberal lecturer is trying to convince a student – Andrew Garfield playing distilled generation X – that he can make a difference, largely by telling him how two of his students with the most potential, but much worse backgrounds than him, have signed up to fight in Afghanistan out of principle.

This, too, is an excuse for speech-making. There’s no real dialogue, just one piece of political diatribe after another.

Finally, intercut with all this is a video game involving the two students in question (Michael Peña and Derek Luke), who have already been sent on Cruise’s master mission. It isn’t supposed to be a video game, of course, but that’s how it looks, with clunky CGI and unbelievable plot points. It's the sheer weight of incredulousness that finally drags this film down, as your brain begins to utter the words, “no way”, at regular intervals and ever louder volumes.

First it’s the little stuff. There is surely no way that a veteran journalist would go to interview a congressman and not take a tape recorder in this day and age. Equally, there is no way that she would listen to him without taking copious shorthand notes (Streep clearly isn’t writing shorthand when we do see her scribbling, and, irritatingly, never seems to get below the second line of her notebook).

There is also no way that a man could fall out of a troop helicopter above a snow-clad mountain in Afghanistan and survive, less still that his bestest buddy in all the world would fling himself after him and also manage not to land on his head.

Even if you put all the “no ways” somewhere quiet, there are further problems to be overcome, not least of which is that the film has virtually no cinematic value. Rarely has Cinemascope been put to such poor use, as stagey, wordy scene, follows stagey, wordy scene. The whole thing would have been much better served in a theatre off Broadway somewhere or, possibly, by HBO, who might at least have improved the scoring, which is full of manipulative swelling strings at supposed 'key' moments. There is also no character development. No one changes through the course of this film, lessons aren’t learned and little insight is given.

Worst of all, perhaps, is that the politics are sweepingly broad and lack any real punch. The whole thing can be boiled down to three attitudes to conflict – those who put their money where their mouth is (those brave boys and their superhuman jumping ability), those who put others' money where their mouth is (step forward Tom and Meryl) and those who don't think anyone's money should be going anywhere but are mouthy anyway (Redford’s borefest). None of these arguments lead anywhere and present only the vaguest of messages concerning the futility of conflict and the dangers of spin. Also, this has all been aired before. Even accepting the fact that certain news channels have a habit of sweetening the pill of war, anyone who is likely to be interested in going to see Lions For Lambs will find nothing new in the argument. Worthy, without being worth watching.

Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2007
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Lions For Lambs packshot
Two US soldiers in Afghanistan are placed in jeopardy as politicians, journalists and academics battle it out back home.
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Read more Lions For Lambs reviews:

Stephen Carty ***1/2
Val Kermode *

Director: Robert Redford

Writer: Matthew Michael Carnahan

Starring: Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Michael Peña, Derek Luke, Andrew Garfield, Peter Berg

Year: 2007

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

London 2007

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