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Lions For Lambs

You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything. Thank you, Mr. Redford, for that country-western sentiment. Personally, when attending a drama, I stand for narrative that allows me to extract the meaning, rather than fall for a lecture with the barest illusion of a plot.

In Lions For Lambs, Robert Redford stars and directs an earnest, preachy diatribe that seems pretty reasonable. You might agree with its politics. Heck, I agree with its politics, but it might as well have been Lullabyes For Lame-Os. For one brief moment, you could hope that this was going someplace, but no, Redford would rather just pound us over the head with his message.

Divided into three different yet miraculously interconnected stories, the script twists and writhes in order to make them all happen in real time. That real time would be just under an hour and a half, but you'll swear it was at least three.

Meryl Streep stars as a Washington reporter getting exclusive access to Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise). On the West Coast at a nameless California University, Professor Malley (Redford) conferences with a disappointing student, Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield). It seems Hayes reminds Malley of two other students with great potential that he once taught, who eschewed graduate school for the military.

By sheer coincidence, those two happen to be involved in a troop surge in Afghanistan, failing in their mission at the very same time that Irving explains the rationale for it to Streep's reporter. As Cruise talks to Streep and Redford talks to Garfield, what do these two soldiers in the middle of combat do?

Talk. Then stand.

Matthew Michael Carnahan's screenplay at least tries to be reasonable in its ideas. Certainly in our current political situation, we have a lot of fingers to point without getting much satisfaction. Cruise's Senator says as much - admit to the mistakes and try to move forward. On the surface, this isn't an attack so much as a plea for our country to regain its honor, for the youth to get involved and care, regardless of which side of the political spectrum they fall. It's noble.

But the screenplay also cheats, creating scenes of ridiculously false theatricality. Aside from the triple coincidence of its narrative, which stretches believability, Carnahan builds moment after moment in which people take the most theatrical way of demonstrating their points. I was especially fond of Streep challenging her editor, played by Kevin Dunn, with the classic "we used to be about something" speech.

Carnahan overplays his reality. It isn't enough for Cruise to be a powerful Senator; he's the guy dubbed "…the future of his party" back in 2002, a relatively young (45) dynamic politician in the Republican Party, when we know that neither party has anybody with half the charisma of Cruise. In a criticism of journalism, he also references a bubble-headed news anchor with a multitude of ethnic names. Not only does it sound fake, the character comments on how fake it sounds. That kind of adds up to fake.

In casting, too, the film skews things. As charismatic as Cruise may be, he's developed a persona of untrustworthiness. (He produced the film, so that casting error may be accidental based on his own blindness.) No matter how reasonable his arguments, we have to take them with a grain of salt. Then again, who has the gall to say Redford doesn't know what he's talking about?

Certainly no one involved with this film, though occasional nay-saying might have helped. Redford may be a skilled "actor's director," but he can't handle action; the Afghanistan scenes might make you long for the glory days of Cannon Films, they're so cheap and lifeless.

Yet a few things do hit home. College students today really do feel pretty powerless, though it would be nice to be given more encouragement than a vague, "at least do something." The fact that Streep looks out her car window to see obviously worn stock footage of the White House also speaks volumes about the precariousness of our times.

It's preaching to the choir, though. In fact, at the press screening I attended, half the audience thought they were getting to see P2, a pretty far cry from Lions For Lambs, and many walked out early. As I walked out into the AMC lobby (after watching the whole film), a plasma HD screen played a National Guard recruitment video by 3 Doors Down.

Somehow, that summed up my problems with the film. Even though it was about young people getting involved, it didn't want to get involved with young people.

Derek McCaw

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