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.
Verdict A smart, accessible, surprisingly balanced look at our dysfunctional world. Compelling stuff.
That would mean Empire operate differently to the broadsheets then, which are read by far more people and therefore should have more reason to highlight films on wider releases. Their critics, however, often choose high-quality, smaller films to lead with, irrespective of how many people can see the film. I remember reading the Guardian take on Lives of Others (if Empire had it as their film of the week I’d retract this part of the point) and making the decision there and then to travel out of ... More
Well, (and this has been discussed in depth elsewhere) quite often when a small film blows us away we do focus on it - see, for example, Once recently. But we don't think we're doing a service to readers to focus most of our attentions on films that lots of people can't see, because they don't show at cinemas near them. Not to mention the fact that Lions for Lambs (to get back on topic for a minute) isn't a turkey, and that all it got in the mag was that one page review. ... More
L: Helen OHara
The "Film of the Week" calculation is partly based on assessing which film most people have a chance to see. It's not just about star ratings. But it is NOT based on stars or money or cowardice, and in our considered opinion Lions for Lambs is not tosh, so please moderate your language.
And how clever of you to bring up The Phantom Menace. I bet no one's thought to beat us with that stick in at least, oh, five minutes. Well done you on never making a mistake in the hea... More
In your considered opinion Lions for Lambs is tosh??? that's confusing. Surely Into The Wild should be film of the week then...i mean a road trip across america with Emile Hersch sounds more accessible to me than a lecture on Afghanistan from crinkly Redford! ... More
The "Film of the Week" calculation is partly based on assessing which film most people have a chance to see. It's not just about star ratings. But it is NOT based on stars or money or cowardice, and in our considered opinion Lions for Lambs is tosh, so please moderate your language.
And how clever of you to bring up The Phantom Menace. I bet no one's thought to beat us with that stick in at least, oh, five minutes. Well done you on never making a mistake in the heat of the moment. ... More
And another thing, why is this 'film of the week' when "The Band's Visit" gets 5 stars and Lions for Lambs only 4 stars???
C'mon Empire, have the courage of your convictions for once instead of just following where the money and stars are!!
Here you give "The Bands Visit" a tiny review whilst writing reams about this Tom Cruise tosh, a much lesser movie.
Cowards.We all remember your 'Phantom Menace" review (for shame!). ... More
A few choice quotes from Time Out's review of this film:
"The politics of this film are basic beyond belief, which would be acceptable is they weren’t also so muddled and unconvincingly expressed."
"‘Lions for Lambs’ – or, more accurately, ‘Politics for Dummies’"
"The filmmakers must have imagined sparky, engaging conversation between these duos similar to a high-speed tennis bout between skillful pros; what emerges is more co... More
Anyway I'm adding my two pence worth...
or Lambs is a film of ideas and ideals. The title derives from a WWI German general's quote relating the British generals with lambs issuing orders that sent their men (read lions) into battle and to their death. These ideas and ideals are presented via three different stories, which no matter how hard director Robert Redford attempts, do not knit together.
Story one involves Tom Cruise's over-ambitious Republican senator,... More