MONKEY REVIEW: Lions For Lambs

April 14, 2008

“How do we sleep while our beds are burning?” – Midnight Oil

Robert Redford’s film about American life during wartime, Lions For Lambs, will frustrate some viewers hoping for a film that will tell them what to think about the issues it raises, or else provide all the answers for the questions that it poses. However, as a rare Hollywood release about ideas, this is a worthy, if flawed, effort, with a stand out performance by Tom Cruise as a Republican senator granting an interview to a seasoned reporter (Meryl Streep), who is suspicious of his motives. That story is interwoven with two others, one about a pair of soldiers (Derek Luke and Michael Peña) who find themselves in harm’s way in Afghanistan, and another about a university professor and Vietnam war vetern (Redford) talking to a student (Andrew Garfield) about his increasing lack of engagement with the political science class the professor is teaching. The latter story is probably the movie’s weakest link, as the student’s character is so sketchily drawn and generally unlikeable that you wonder why the professor is going out of his way to reach him in the first place. Nevertheless, the story is at least functional, since the movie, its obvious anti-war sentiments aside, is about action and inaction in a time that absolutely demands the former. In this regard it recalls the brilliant 1969 film Medium Cool, which, like Lions For Lambs, critiques a news media, and to a wider degree, American society, that has become dispassionate and disengaged from the events taking place in front of it. Almost forty years on, that news media is even worse off, as it’s more concerned with covering the lives of errant pop stars than it is world events that authentically impact the daily lives of the citizens of the society it is supposedly serving, an observation pointedly made in the final moments of the movie. Lions For Lambs, despite coming into criticism for being a “talkathon” or more a civics or political science lesson than a movie, is about the levels of response open to us in a time of crisis, and the reasons we choose, or choose not to, take action. Though it may be symbolically heavy handed, the final actions of some of the characters epitomize what the movie is ultimately trying to say, which is that however one chooses to respond to the myriad crises facing the world today, be they social, political, economic or environmental, the most courageous choice is to refuse to take them lying down. Lions For Lambs respects its audience enough to not tell them what to do, but instead simply tells them that they must do something. We may make mistakes and we may even fail, but we must take some kind of action. The film is ultimately asking us, how can we not?

MONKEY RATING: ONE MONKEY

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

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