It wasn't the wisest move of Academy Award-winning director Robert Redford to try to incorporate war, the media and education into just three narrative threads. Lions for Lambs attempts to focus and take a strong stance on three politically-based conflicts that intertwine, all the while trying to convey a deeper meaning for our contemporary audience to reflect upon. It turns out that by attempting to take such a stance, the movie translates as an instant catastrophe. The cast might sound impressive with names like Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise, but the film is far from it.
The story begins with two students, Arian (Derek Luke) and Ernest (Michael Pena) who decide to do something meaningful with their lives and join the war effort in Afghanistan. These idealistic boys, however, are blithely unaware of the dangers they must face once they get there. Back home, their college teacher, Professor Malley (Redford), attempts to reach out to another student, Todd (Andrew Garfield), a gifted boy disaffected by his dropping grades. Malley wants to make him see that there's more to life than procrastination and academic indifference. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., a presidential hopeful, Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise), prepares to tell a TV journalist (Meryl Streep) a story involving a strategy that can change the fate of the war and of Arian and Ernest.
The boys in Afghanistan struggle to stay alive and reflect on whether they made the right decision to go to war or not. These are earnest moments of reflection on their part, but the overall structure of the war scenes come across as dull rather than enlightening.
Redford's scene with Garfield is similarly tiresome. It seems as if he and Garfield are having a conversation without a script, and that somebody forgot to turn off the camera and decided to use the scene anyway. Fortunately Meryl Streep gives a typically outstanding performance as the skeptical D.C. journalist, even if she's stuck in a failed political message film.
The same cannot be said for Cruise, however; he lacks any believable emotion in his scenes and is unconvincing as a hardheaded Senator. His performance in War of the Worlds seems positively Oscar-worthy next to this.
Redford himself had doubts as to how the public was going to receive the film before it hit theaters across the country.
"I was surprised, frankly, that they would take a chance with this kind of film because normally Hollywood and the mainstream shy from these," Redford said in a roundtable interview with The Beacon. "What I was taken by was the fact that the three stories in the film covered a broader look at things, but the problem is going to be that I don't know who's going to see it. I mean, there's so many films out there.how does one judge?"
There's one thing Redford's right about: there are many films out there and they're probably worth watching more than this one any day.
Lions for Lambs flat out disappoints-and 20 minutes into the film, you'll be praying for it to be over. The special effects are good in the Afghan war sequences and the music is quite dramatic throughout, but it just isn't enough to make the movie successful in any lasting way. If it wasn't for Streep, and her chameleon-like abilities to slip in and out of roles, the movie wouldn't hold any merit at all.
Redford's intentions to make the film educational and enthralling at the same time could have worked if he'd added more to this repetitive exercise in moralizing. Perhaps some gravitas could have been attained if he split the scenes and spread them out instead of focusing on the same ones for over an hour. Overall, Lions for Lambs is not worth anyone's time and money. Sorry Meryl, Redford can't handle the truth.