Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lions For Lambs - Film Review

I predict that the new Robert Redford-directed film Lions for Lambs [United Artists] will be far more popular with a segment of bloggers, political junkies, media, and high schools/college campuses than with the general movie market masses. The conversation in the film is intense and action scenes are few and far between.

There are six distinctly differing points of view presented in the film; everyone's view as valid as the next; representative of today's political viewpoints on the war on terror. The beauty of this film is that it draws in all aspects of human nature as we struggle together to weave our way through the complex questions (asked and all too often left unasked) about the wars in which our nation becomes engaged.

Arian [Derek Luke] and Ernest [Michael Pena] play two university students on a western U.S. campus who are sparked to do something meaningful with their own lives by the inspiration and idealism of their professor Dr. Malley [Robert Redford]. Dr. Malley is a Vietnam-draftee-cum-60s-war-protestor whose most severe injury from the battles fought is a deep forehead scar from being hit with a bottle while protesting stateside.

What the two students choose to do with their lives deeply concerns Dr. Malley [Redford]. They enlist in the Army and are sent to the front lines of the war in Afghanistan. He is obviously torn - as many good American citizen are torn today as a result of the confusion, the near-curse of an overabundance of viewponts, mistrust in a media that causes the typical citizen to care more about Britney's vagina than the sacrifices being made by volunteers in the U.S. military, anger, and even complacency after a young person decides that it's fruitless to try to make a change in the world. The fate that befalls Arian [Luke)] and Ernest [Pena] will leave the audience to think about the contrasts surrounding brotherhood, friendship, patriotism, education, critical thinking, and questioning the information produced by a corporate media whose owners' primary concern is selling lightbulbs and soap rather than expecting their journalists to investigate key stories based on the journalist's experience and informed intuition.

Janine Roth [Meryl Streep] plays such an experienced journalist who is 57, menopausal (flicking the thermostat down/complaining about the heat in her office), not quite ready to be able to retire because she's an adult-caregiver to her ailing aged mother (and her boss understands her dilemma and takes advantage of it). She has the kind of conscience that is gnawing away at her; guilty about the possibility that she "sold herself out" in a professional sense by working for mainstream corporate media. The wily young hot-shot Republican Senator Jasper Irving [Tom Cruise] takes full advantage of invoking that guilt during an hour-long interview he's exclusively granted to Janine Roth [Streep]...just to get her to report his talking points - and report them unfiltered. This is a nightmare for those who care about journalism's code of ethics. Janine Roth doesn't want to be used as a steno-pad for Senator Irving's talking points, but she's caught in a complicated human struggle as a woman who feels guilty to have written prior puff-pieces on Senator Irving; guilty for having contributed to the mainstream media's unquestioning drumbeat for war at the war's outset; and guilty for having to professionally block out the all-important lessons she'd learned from the Vietnam era in the new world of competitive commercial media.

I believe that once the public has a chance to see the film, the primary impact of the movie's message will have been on young people who connect with the character Todd Hayes, played by Andrew Garfield. Seeing great potential in Todd Hayes, Dr. Malley says to the gifted student who seems to have lost interest in his studies, "The problem's not with the people who started this war. The problem's with us - - all of us - - who do nothing." It seems that Dr. Malley, after seeing two of his prized students heading off to a very confusing war - which was something that took him off-guard - is seeking some human redemption himself, perhaps on behalf of his own and prior generations of Americans that never 'got it right', by raising Todd Hayes to be the best that he can be in his own way.

We see, throughout the movie, the time on the clock. There is the clock in Senator Irving's office during the hour he's "gifted" to Janine Roth for an exclusive story filled with talking points that all-too easily and quickly seem to reach today's headlines and the there is the time on the clock during the important hour-long discussion that Dr. Malley has set aside especially for imploring Todd Hayes [Garfield] to think about his future. By contrast, we see no clock..no timeline for troops in Afghanistan who loyally follow orders passed down to them by people in shadows....people who may or may not have the nation's interests in mind more than their own personally political or party-specific interests.

This is the first production from the new United Artists, reborn last year through a new partnership that includes Tom Cruise. It was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan.


In an interview with Stephanie Jevtic of the Chicago Flame, Robert Redford had this to say about the film:

SJ: What does "Lions for Lambs" suggest for our generation, to make a difference? What did you want us to notice, to examine more in order to understand the concept of the film?

Robert Redford: The film suggests for you guys to have a role in your future. Step up to the plate because things will be worse without you. We made a solid choice not to lean heavy on issues. But we wanted to ask people, is there anything you recognize on the issues in the film? Is there a pattern you see and if you know it and how it goes, are you willing to do something about it? To stop it and make a difference? To make a difference, pay attention to who's out there. Show concern about your country and who's running it. Winning is more important than anything now. That's bad criteria for a leadership. Look underneath; the film shows an arc of history which I lived through: World War II, McCarthyism, Watergate, Iran-Contra and now the war in Iraq. And those leaders who caused or didn't do anything to stop these things keep coming back to power and you wonder, why do they keep repeating themselves? Look at history, there is a mindset that shows up. We've got the same deal now that we've always had and which we keep repeating.

UPDATE: A visit to the YouTube Lions for Lambs website will enable you to vote for the video you support most in the "WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR?" contest. You can take part in enabling the winning video's creator to get to help choose what charity should receive $25,000 and have his/her video featured on the YouTube homepage.