Lions For Lambs

2007, Movie, R, 88 mins


Matthew Michael Carnahan's second produced screenplay suffers from the same problems as his first, THE KINGDOM: However topical and well-intentioned, it's overinflated, self-important and full of interesting ideas that are never satisfyingly digested. Instead of the provocative political thriller/think piece he and director-star Robert Redford no doubt hoped to make, this talky, dramatically moribund film feels more like a 90-minute op-ed piece detailing every single misfire in the war on terror.

The action, such as it is, unfolds in three very different locations, each with its own group of apparently unrelated characters. In Washington, D.C., Republican senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) hands veteran journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) a big story: The U.S. military is about to launch a new offensive in Northern Afghanistan and he wants Janine to break the story. In a northern Afghan province, a mountainous region riddled with Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, U.S. Special Forces soldiers Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Pena) and Arian Finch (Derek Luke) are part of that new offensive: Establishing small "forward-operating points" on high ground before the snow thaws. But when their Blackhawk attempts to land on a snowy plateau in the early-morning darkness, they encounter heavy RPG fire; Finch and Rodriguez are knocked from their helicopter and find themselves surrounded by enemy combatants. And in an unnamed California university, political-science professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) tries to reengage the intellectual passion of a once-promising, now-jaded student (Andrew Garfield), who feels the world is too screwed for any individual to make much of a difference. Dr. Malley uses the example of two former students — Finch and Rodriguez — to stir him to action, but with unexpected consequences.

Carnahan's script reads like a laundry list of Bush-administration failures in the "war on terror": failures in intelligence, failures in foreign policy, failures in leadership (like the British soldiers in WWI as observed by an admiring German soldier, Carnahan feels the "lions" on the battlefields are being led to their slaughter by Washington "lambs" who've never seen battle), failures in public relations, and the failure of the press to accurately report on the buildup to war before selling it to the public. There's no denying the truths Carnahan puts forth, but none of it is presented in any coherent form. In the end, it all remains a dramatically inert set of talking points, and not even the high-caliber cast can make much more out of it. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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