Coincidentally enough, I had to go to work directly after seeing Robert Redford's far-too-ponderous "Lions for Lambs" and was confronted with an AP story pointing out that, with six soldiers dying Saturday in Afghanistan, this is now the deadliest year there for American troops since the invasion began. And in the minute or so it took me to read that story I learned much more than I did from Redford's flick.
Which, in many ways, is a tremendous shame. Though I read a lot of newspapers, with the New York Times and Washington Post (call me pinko if you want to) being my usual first choices, I usually skip right over the headlines about war and go right to the stories about the 2008 campaign. They just interest me more, as wrongheaded as that might be.
So, in a way I suppose I should be among the target audience for Redford's salvo in the war of (many, many) words, and I certainly get his point. How in the world could you miss it when it's made even less subtly than Laurence Fishburne running around campus at the end of "School Daze" (which for the record, I enjoyed a lot more than this flick) screaming "wake up!"
To beat us over the head with this mantra, Redford uses a quasi-real-time triptych of stories, which if he weren't so consumed with righteous anger would have made for a much more clever conceit. In the first, and best, storyline we get Tom Cruise (whose United Artists studio put this out) as a GOP senator and rising star who is pitching a new front in the war on terror to a reporter who has helped him out in the past, played with her usual finesse by Meryl Streep.
Just in case you somehow missed the point that he was supposed to represent our current president, Cruise's senator uses "enemy" constantly, just as Mr. Bush does to pitch his war on TV. What made this segment the most interesting was that, with Streep effectively playing the Judith Miller character in this game, it presented a plausible enough scenario about how the Media can get seduced into becoming a watchdog with no fangs.
From there, however, it just goes downhill fast. The second scenario? We essentially get Robert Redford as, well, Robert Redford, berating a student (played by Tom Garfield) who doesn't care enough about the future as he should. OK, fair enough, but if the student is supposed to represent us, that's exactly what we get: Robert Redford yelling at us to pay attention, and it's often even less entertaining than it sounds like it would be on paper.
And the third story goes from simply wordy to weird. As Cruise is pitching his new front in the war, it is seemingly simultaneously being put into action, with director Peter Berg leading the troops. Berg, of course, directed a much more entertaining flick about this subject, "The Kingdom," this year, which like "Lambs" was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (which I assume is why Berg is in this to begin with.) In case you couldn't guess from the title "Lions for Lambs," the mission doesn't go too well, but I won't tell you any more than that in case you still want to see the movie.
As he did with "The Kingdom," Carnahan wraps up "Lions for Lambs" with a very clever punch, this one about the state of our Media. But the verbal torture you had to sit through to get there just wasn't worth suffering through for that little payoff.
Now, I can respect that Robert Redford is angry, and I can understand why. If he wanted, however, to win over any "hearts and minds" (as Cruise's character so mockingly puts it here), this certainly wasn't the way to do it.