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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Lions For Lambs

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Lions For Lambs

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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No, the title does not allude to the often misquoted Bible verse “...and the Lion shall lie down with the Lamb” in which world peace is attained. It’s a reference (made by a WWII German general) to the magnificent valor of the WWI English army, led by incredibly foolish commanders. A parallel to the current administration and its policies on Iraq and Afghanistan you say? Let’s see…

The film jumps between three diverse but intertwined stories concerning U.S. involvement in the war on terror; military involvement, that is. Many more Americans have no intellectual involvement whatsoever, as one storyline illustrates and seeks to simplistically remedy.

There’s Professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) and his promising student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield). At an unnamed California University (code word for liberal), Malley tries to get the apathetic young man engaged in the current political and world climate. He even uses a final grade as a bribe. The student is interested, but it is purely self-interest. Todd has an entitlement issue and a smirk you’d like to slap off of his face. He’s the voice of satiated youth that Malley tries to prod into action. Does he succeed in his quest to imbue the slacker with a sense of personal and political engagement? He’ll sure try with words, words, an example, and more words. The story of former students Arian and Ernie illustrate his point.

Arian Finch, (Derek Luke) and Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Pena) present a proposal to do away with the junior year of college nationwide and supplant it with national service. To prove their point, they finish the presentation with their own Army induction letters.

Idealistic and proactive, these two have enlisted in Special Forces, where a helicopter ambush leaves them stranded on a snowy mountain in Afghanistan. Both are seriously wounded and nearly out of ammunition.

Then there’s Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) and veteran Time reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep). The political hotshot with presidential aspirations outlines a new strategy for troop invasions, espousing surges and escalations. A stunned Roth voices doubts, questions, and alternate points of view. Irving will not be swayed. Roth slowly realizes that she’s played a part in elevating Irving to his current position of power and is therefore somewhat complicit in the hawkish fervor of his convictions.

Tiptoeing around political stories is troublesome to Roth, but not her editor. It’s a story, cover it, agenda be damned. Roll out the exclusive, just the way the senator wants. It’s Roth who’ll be losing sleep, not Jasper Irving. Arian and Ernie also learn the meaning of sleep in a heartbreakingly powerful scene.

Tom Cruise puts his steely blue eyes to good use as the strident senator, picking up the war on terror agenda, polishing it, and then selling it in his blue, three-piece suit and flag pin. The Tom Cruise of Taps and Top Gun excels in this role of gung-ho political mouthpiece. The Tom Cruise of Born on the Fourth of July might have some questions.

Meryl Streep lets her perplexed face do as much communicating as her words. Her character uneasily smiles through the pep talk, wondering what she helped create and how she is being manipulated. She and Redford have no scenes together, but share a point of view as synched as their slow, parting dance in Out of Africa.

Director Robert Redford presents a sincere effort to explore all sides of a complex and multifaceted conflict although his Professor Malley comes off as a bit smug and all-knowing. The three storylines are inter-cut to strengthen some arguments and refute others. While this presents a fair and well-rounded panorama of opinion, philosophy and fact, it also fails to take any one stand and firmly support it.

Writer Mathew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom) covers a lot of ground in his ambitious attempt to represent all sides of a polarizing issue. Characters embrace their positions with absolute conviction, especially Cruise and Redford. Streep is more subtle in the bewildered style of most of the U.S. population, hearing the arguments, but not buying the rhetoric. Andrew Garfield’s cynical, comfortable Todd can be swayed, but will he be? Luke and Pena, in strong supporting roles, leave you guessing as well.

Lions for Lambs lays out the pertinent issues, but offers no solutions. Like a deli platter, you’re left to choose a filling that’s palatable from all of the possibilities. Naturally, the carnivores will go for the meat and the vegans will stick to their precious greens.

At a mere 86 minutes, the film has an abrupt ending, but is nonetheless thought-provoking. The trouble is the conclusion you reach will probably be the one you came in with.