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Lions For Lambs
Redford tries to talk it out

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A senator (Cruise) unveils a new Afghan war strategy to reporter Roth (Streep). A professor (Redford) talks to student Todd (Garfield). And two soldiers (Peña and Luke) fight to stay alive?

Lions For Lambs
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Robert Redford’s rep as a Hollywood liberal may sink this film, right out of the gate. Sight unseen, US pundits are accusing it of an anti-Bush bias, and with audiences avoiding Iraq and Afghanistan films in droves, a movie that not only discusses the War On Terror but does very little else is never going to beat Titanic at the box office. But this is more balanced than pre-reviews would have you believe, and more about asking questions than offering trite answers.

The three-stranded plot is simple. A senator (Tom Cruise) announces a new war strategy for Afghanistan to a veteran reporter (Meryl Streep). Two soldiers (Michael Peña and Derek Luke) implement those new orders and land in serious peril. And a professor of political science (Robert Redford) tries to motivate a young student (Andrew Garfield) to engage in classes. Two thirds of the film, therefore, is pure talk - Redford’s professor barely stirs from his chair; Streep’s reporter and Cruise’s Senator Jasper Irving have a sit-down interview. Even the soldiers are pinned in one spot. It could almost be a stage play.

But Michael Matthew Carnahan’s script and Redford’s assured direction have the smarts to make the static seem kinetic. The back-and-forth between Cruise and Streep, in particular, is electric; this will, if there’s any justice, see Cruise finally win an Oscar. Perhaps spurred on by working opposite the screen’s most accomplished actress, the world’s biggest star is on Magnolia form, bringing that almost creepy charisma to bear as a highly influential senator.

There is a clear critique of modern politics - Cruise makes assertions on a par with Blair’s 45-minute claim without offering proof, vaguely acknowledges past mistakes while repeating them, and displays fury at the adversaries who refuse to play by his rules. But Streep’s character isn’t blameless either, compromised by the media’s early cheerleading for the Iraq War and her inability to effectively question the party line.

More surprising is how well newcomer Andrew Garfield matches Redford, the novice convincing as a feckless student whose surfer dude mannerisms conceal a keen mind. Redford’s don, worn down but not out by apathetic students, tries to galvanise Garfield’s Todd into action by telling him about soldiers Ernest and Arian, now serving in Afghanistan.

If there’s any part of the film that’s unbalanced, it’s the portrayal of these two paragons - hard-working scholarship boys who go off to war because they want to do good. There’s been a tendency in recent years to lionise the common soldier which, while properly laying the blame on the political management, risks offering an unrealistic look at the experience of war: it’s hard to imagine Platoon, say, being made in the current climate. But Peña and Luke bring enough chemistry to their roles to add an emotional edge while avoiding being mere ciphers. Ultimately, they are scared kids lost in a foreign country, a reminder of the human life put at risk by high ideals and political mistakes. The moral seems to be that, whichever side of the political divide you’re on, you owe it to people like these to make the right choices.

A smart, accessible, surprisingly balanced look at our dysfunctional world. Compelling stuff.

Reviewed by Helen O'Hara

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Lions For Lambs
Empire Star Rating

Garfield steals the show

very smart dramatic film cruise was seldom better Redford is pure class as always but Andrew Garfield is the standout he is amazing here ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bill the butcher at 01:03, 25 November 2012 | Report This Post


Empire User Rating

Posted by soulfood at 22:27, 22 August 2008 | Report This Post

Lions for lambs--all talk no action

90 minutes of talk with no pay off. Boring, contrived, simplistic. Cruise is miscast and the cast is badly served by the film and its script. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 04:08, 22 July 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Better Than I Expected

Basically, to be less complex, I can say I  find Fluke Skywalker and claudemg has said what I think about this movie.   I like it too, especially the way Robert made a movie to make people think, and telling the truth at the same time.   Interesting movie, and I am not a fan of politics. ... More

Posted by Anglachel at 21:13, 28 April 2008 | Report This Post

Better Than I Expected

I enjoyed this movie - it might seem like hard going to some with it's subject matter and talky nature but it's brisk running time (under 90 mins) and quality cast make it a thoroughly compelling watch.   That said the points it tries to make are surely aimed more at the brainwashed types in America because it's all fairly obvious to anyone with half a brain :   - leaders lie - mistakes were made - media failed in it's responsibilities - soldiers are brave ... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 15:33, 28 April 2008 | Report This Post

Not as smart as it thinks it is

The movie lays out its message in a babyish way. No matter how you look at it, there is nothing in this film that we couldn't have guessed for ourselves. Politicians try to spin stories in their favour? who knew? The media have a hard time NOT reporting what is fed to them? who knew? kids are generally apathetic but some have 'potential'? WHO KNEW? I mean come on, if you want a more profound look at the way things really work you would do better watching the soldiers' own accounts scattered aro... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by claudemg at 01:29, 09 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Lions For Lambs

Really enjoyed this. Thought provoking, giving all points of view showing that there is no easy way out of the situation that the world is in just now.   It was refreshing just to see a movie that talked about some fucking thing. I hadn't realised how utterly inane the dreck I see at the movies these days actually is.   But what did Redford look like? Now, I'm not saying he's had work done. But, he does look like he has had work done. Streep, however, gets more beautiful with ... More

Posted by elzupasmonkey at 18:50, 24 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: Lions For Lambs

SPOILERS!   Lions for Lambs to me was a well written, thought provoking political drama that debates and assesses the US War on Terror in Afganistan and the various ways its viewed and being dealt with in America. Like with Rendition it is not an action thriller but more of a cerlberal affair and yes is probably a script that would have worked better and be more appreciated on the stage by theatre goers. I enjoy stimulating debates on subjects like these so was gripped by the acti... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Cruisecontroller at 11:49, 19 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: Lions For Lambs

Loved it. Held my interest all the way fact I was gripped! I will admit nothing really happens and it seems like a stage play but the film never outstays its welcome (quite short) and the conversations/debates were very entertaining. All actors on top form, Tom Cruise back on top and I hope this brings back his credibility to the public eye before Valkyrie enforces it upon us. ... More

Posted by Hartigan at 00:38, 19 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: Lions For Lambs

Probably a bit late in the debate to contribute as to whether this is a good film or not however, in my humble opinion, it is by far one of the worst films I have ever seen; at least 10 out of the 20 people in the cinema were asleep (I feined in and out of what felt like a diabetic coma on a number of occasions) and it became a war of attrition as to whether me and my fellow comrades in arms would stay the distance.  Alarm bells were ringing just at the point where Robert Re... More

Posted by Neil270967 at 21:23, 18 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: Lions For Lambs

This film f izzles out so early, for all its righteous indignation and star-heavy cast. It draws attention to the issue- 'why is the American government so quick to engage with terrorists abroad with the huge problems it faces at home?' Those wooed to the cinema by its central trio, though, will be rather dissapointed by a theatrical affair , as the main story revolves around two conversations , and not much more. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 14:21, 18 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: Just a different opinion...

Advertising and hype have not set the agenda on this one. Cruise, Redford and Streep's track record are what has drawn attention to this film. It's their pedigree that, for me, have made it a must see, that and the subject matter. If anything the advertising campaign on this one has been relatively low key. Plus the difference between stars on a review is an opinion. It's possible that everyone in the Empire office really thinks that Lions for Lambs is a four star film but that say everyone... More

Posted by The Hooded Man at 13:30, 14 November 2007 | Report This Post

Just a different opinion...

L: The Hooded Man I think we are being harsh on Helen here. The Film of the Week label is surely aimed at the film that will get people talking that week, the one to see for want of a better phrase, rather than necessarily rhe best film out that week. If you are like me, you don't to see a label on a film before deciding if it's worth your attention or going to see. Don't blame Empire because they don't share your everything is shit world view. urely "the one to see", as you put it,... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by fierce-hairdo at 18:41, 13 November 2007 | Report This Post


To the person who is working through the box sets of the West Wing, wait until you see the third season opener, Isaac and Ishmael.   I enjoyed Lions For Lambs and I think part of the reason so many critics are complaining about it is because it goes after the media in a big way. Critics working for broadsheets and respected magazines in America have complained of the film playing dumb and providing no solutions for the criticisms it makes of the current situation in Iraq, yet the ... More

Posted by redeyes at 17:48, 13 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: It's not patronising

I think we are being harsh on Helen here. The Film of the Week label is surely aimed at the film that will get people talking that week, the one to see for want of a better phrase, rather than necessarily rhe best film out that week. If you are like me, you don't to see a label on a film before deciding if it's worth your attention or going to see. Don't blame Empire because they don't share your everything is shit world view. ... More

Posted by The Hooded Man at 15:27, 13 November 2007 | Report This Post

It's not patronising

          We have to remember the difference between European audience and American audience.. While here we have marginal press freedom and marginal awareness of the world, the americans have nothing of the sort... So what we might find patronising here, might be news there...  ize]           I do agree with most posters here that this film is nothing more than a sermonising excersise ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by omarx at 19:31, 12 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: lions for lambs

I've just seen the Peeping Toms feature / quiz. Any chance someone on Empire's picture desk could bung the pictures through photoshop and write "twat" on each and every forehead? ... More

Posted by DanCurley at 17:13, 12 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: lions for lambs

L: Citizen Dildo Back to the film.  Part of the criticism Ive read of this film is that it offers no real answers.  Well so frickin what?  Clearly it exists to ask questions and encourage debate.  In the current climate with so much dross at our cinemas and on TV surely that is commendable?  As for people claiming it has nothing to say, I can only assume you missed the point.  It may be over simplified and perhaps better suited as a play, but at... More

Posted by Axel Foley at 16:50, 12 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: lions for lambs

Unlike rendition this film is shown completely from an American POV (or POVs). The Taliban being literally shadowy figures. Instead we get to see two different "high level" discussions about the war on terror between a senator and embittered journalist and a politics professor and his disillusioned student, all the while experiencing the front line from the POV of two stranded soldiers.   I felt it was well balanced leaving the viewer, like the characters to make their own choice. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Manny at 13:33, 12 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: lions for lambs

I'm in the minority here because I thoroughly enjoyed the film and thought it worthy of the Empire review.   Firstly, I cant believe some of the guff at the top of this thread with quotes like "Empire gets it wrong again" etc.  FFS, how can a review be wrong????  If you care to disagree with the review that's fine, but questioning the motives of the star rating/film of the week etc - just absolute nonsense.   Back to the film.  Part of the criticism Ive read of ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Citizen Dildo at 13:18, 12 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: lions for lambs

Helen, I'm not saying that the reviews are based on market research, but the magazine as a whole will be, surely, otherwise you've been extremely lucky to have survived as successfully as you have done for so long. I just get fed up with these people that constantly think they're better than everyone else because they've seen some romania arthouse movie fixed on a wooden chair in an empty room for 45 minutes. I believe the movies with the mass appeal should receive the greater coverage from E... More

Posted by Marvel_79 at 12:58, 12 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: lions for lambs

Does Tom have his trademark "little rant" like he does in all his films? The angry little toad - needs a good slap. He even had one in war of the worlds - throwing his peanut butter butty at the window like that.   Walked past a poster of Lions for Lambs in the underground - someone wrote "twat" on cruise's forehead. That's proper art. I'd actually go and watch this film where he not in it... ... More

Posted by DanCurley at 11:10, 12 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: lions for lambs

Marvel, thanks for the vote of support but our reviews are NOT based on market research, nor is the amount of space we give films. It's entirely the reviews editor's decision, working in conjunction with the editor and based entirely on how interested we are in a film (something not based on its budget and not necessarily on its cast) and therefore how interested we think our readers will be, how good we think it is and how much we think there is to say about it. Fierce, for the same reasons I'... More

Posted by Helen OHara at 10:37, 12 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: Lions For Lambs

3"]Anyone mind if I interject this fascinating dis3"]cussion for a review of the actual film at all? No? Good... "#ff0000"]s for Lambsign] I have admired Streep for a long time, even if her turn in il Wears Pradamnambulistic. In or Lambsthe best thing in it, and she's not even on form. The film jolts between three disparate stories. The first is between Cruise and Streep as Republican ('my party', Republican is never name-checked) Senator and reporter, respectively. (The netw... More

Posted by homersimpson_esq at 23:55, 11 November 2007 | Report This Post

RE: Lions For Lambs

Having now actually seen the film, I think I can help to get this topic back on track- the reviews....       I dont disagree with Helen O'Hara's review enough to cause a fuss- or to insinuate that it was motivated by financial means...     (Some may consider the following to have a few ely minorrs)   Having seen Rendition beforehand, it was pleasant to see a rounded argument. Lions for Lambs manages to keep the topic issue discussed thro... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ThismonkeyhasRAGE at 20:03, 11 November 2007 | Report This Post

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