Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lions for Lambs: Grade D

Lions for Lambs (2007)
Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise. Director Robert Redford.

This anti-war movie is a diatribe urging young people to get involved in politics to oppose the war (in Iraq), which is portrayed as ill-conceived, unsuccessful, and morally illegitimate. Cruise is a US senator who has a new plan to win the war by increased military action. He is portrayed as if he were Commander in Chief, when really, all a senator can do is authorize or cut off funding for a war, but this is the movie’s way to avoid direct criticism of the president. The senator releases news of new military action to reporter Streep. They have a snappy dialog about the legitimacy of the war, its history, aims, and processes, but it just rehashes familiar arguments. Lefty Streep wants the Republican senator to take responsibility for disastrous foreign policy but he changes the subject to argue an unrelated point. He wants to talk about the future, not "dwell" on the past. These attitudes and rhetorical strategies fairly represent today’s political discourse, making the senator look either stupid or dishonest, but surely self-blind.

Redford is an unlikely political science professor who chastises his star student for apathetically choosing personal ambition over political engagement. It is the "message” of the movie, that young people need to get involved, but it is a simplistic view delivered with deadening Redfordian pomposity. The professor tells of two other students who got involved by enlisting in the army. That option is portrayed ambiguously. He criticizes it, but the soldiers themselves justify it. Those soldiers end up in Afghanistan, in a set of dark-blue-filtered scenes that is so muddy and dim you can’t even make out their faces. I think that was done to disguise the unconvincing Styrofoam rocks and powdered snow. With plenty of noisy but meaningless gunfire, this segment of the movie is to remind us that if you go into the Service, you could be killed. Better you should lick envelopes at campaign headquarters.

The well-worn arguments in this movie are stated, not portrayed in a story that might bring them to life. I happen to agree completely with the sentiments and attitudes expressed but that doesn’t make it a good movie. Acting by Streep is worth watching, but that’s about all. Directing is adequate for the talking heads but dreadful for the ambushed soldiers. I think the filmmakers failed to get sufficiently engaged themselves and settled for easy speechifying, frittering away a powerhouse cast.

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