Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007 06:52 pm
Redfords latest challenges the audience to get involved in major issues
Untitled Document Unfortunately, many moviegoers will shun Robert Redford’s new film, Lions for Lambs. Some will say it’s too political; others will object, sight unseen, to what they suspect is its liberal agenda; many will put forth the tired excuse that they don’t go to the movies to think, they go to be entertained. To be sure, the film is talky and has an agenda, but the conversations it contains are about vital issues that involve us all. Lambs is the sort of film that’s becoming far too rare: a movie that challenges the audience to get involved in controversial current. There’s a sense of urgency at hand, and Redford’s film reflects that, fully exploring three separate plotlines in a brisk 88 minutes. The first story concerns Stephen Malley (Redford), a professor of political science who’s embroiled in a heated one-on-one conference with Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield), a brilliant student who’s become prematurely disillusioned with the world. Meanwhile, two of Malley’s former students, Arian Finch and Ernest Rodriguez (Derek Luke and Michael Peña), are being deployed on a secret mission in Afghanistan that’s the first step in a new initiative that will turn the tide of the war. Simultaneously, the mastermind behind this plan, conservative U.S. Sen. Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) is giving reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) an exclusive interview in which he’s explaining and justifying this secret plan. The pace at which Redford juggles the three stories increases as these threads converge and each story reaches its tipping point. What emerges is fascinating and pointed as the film looks at the war and the response to it from every angle, without passing judgment or offering answers. Hayes expresses frustration over being powerless to make any significant change in the conflict, and Malley tries to convince him that his voice can make a difference. Irving justifies his plan as an aggressive answer to a problem that was caused by poor preparation and faulty intelligence in the past. Roth is weary of promoting an offensive that could exacerbate the situation further. What’s refreshing about the script, written by Matthew Carnahan, is that it lays the responsibility for what the conflict has become at everyone’s feet. Along the way, the media, the military, politicians, and apathetic citizens are all called on the carpet for their role in this conflict that has spun wildly out of control and offers no easy solution. Instead, what Redford and company call for is involvement and responsibility on everyone’s part, charging that all of us have a vested interest in how this conflict plays out and therefore should play a role in resolving it. Much of the movie is constructed around pointed conversations, and the performers keep us riveted with their sincere work. Streep conveys a sense of cynicism and confusion as her character ponders how responsible the media is for promoting the war, and Redford underplays his part effectively, delivering his character’s message with conviction. It’s a credit to Garfield that he hangs with the screen vet and captures his character’s budding apathy. Finally, credit must be given to Cruise for taking on such an unflattering role. Irving, with his all-American good looks and relentless flag-waving, hides something far more sinister, and he has just the right amount of charm and savvy to sell an unpopular agenda, much like Cruise himself. Although Lions for Lambs offers no answers, it makes no bones about the true cost of this conflict. Finch and Rodriguez enlist for idealistic reasons, and the sense is that they were duped because of the way the war has been promoted. Their fate is one shared by thousands who have been sent to the Middle East, but their sacrifice is one that is hardly noticed because, like the sacrifices of so many soldiers before them, it is underreported. In the end, Lambs wants to put the Iraqi conflict and those who have suffered because of it in the spotlight, where it can be honestly and openly discussed. For that reason alone, it deserves our attention.