Unfolding as nearly a raw, gritty, highly stylized rough cut of itself, Robert Redford’s Lions For Lambs is a breathlessly urgent and stinging reality-based dramatic indictment of recent US foreign policy and its endless war on terror. As a kind of antidote to the evasive and compartmentalized tactics of the money media that goes to great lengths to omit or deny cause and effect when it comes to official government policy and the multitude of lives impacted by it, Lions For Lambs makes its critical and indeed defiant point that life and death decisions about issues like war have concrete and irrefutable repercussions that stretch far and wide to various corners of the planet. Or perhaps as close by as the person right next to us, whom we may care for deeply.
The title is taken from a German general’s mocking comments during WWII, expressing his admiration for the courage of British foot soldiers, while ridiculing their commanding officers: ‘Never have I seen such lions led by such lambs.’ The words are spoken in the film by Redford’s character, Dr. Malley, a former ’60s activist and idealistic professor at a West Coast university who is increasingly frustrated by the cynicism, materialism and complacency of the younger generation of students in his political science classes. Malley is also shocked and stunned that the moral convictions he tried to impart to his young charges has led to two of his students of color, played by Derek Luke and Michael Pena, to sign up for the military to fight the war on terror. And their unit has been assigned to a dangerous secret mission in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the architect of that new plan–essentially a dismal replay of the failures of Viet Nam–is the brash and ambitious US Senator Irving (Tom Cruise). Irving has called in star DC reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) to reveal limited hints about the plan without giving much away, attempting to manipulate the interview and dictate the story to what he hopes will be more a stenographer’s than a journalist’s ear, in order to produce the promo puff piece that will enhance his future bid for the US presidency.
But a clearly stressed and distraught Roth has long been jaded by the seemingly aimless and perpetual war on terror in which she herself feels a gnawing complicity as an initially compliant player in the media. So a heated political debate between the two ensues rather than a conventional interview, and all sorts of controversial topics touching on the nature of present day paranoid, violent, preemptively destructive and victory-obsessed government policies fire up the dialogue.
With references to Greek philosophy at hand, it’s apparently Redford’s intention to spark political discourse in Lions For Lambs about the ailing state of the nation, and the needless sacrifice of its young to wars, with a concurrent warped sense of glory telegraphed by the cheerleaders in authority–the lambs–far from the battlefields. Specifically, the drama is shaped in the manner of the dialectics of classical Greek philosophy and its ultimate intent, namely the search for truth. The weighty issues are at times delivered in too rapid a style to fully contemplate and digest, but their significance for an urgent and long overdue national debate is in no way diminished. In any case, Lions For Lambs tugs at the heart and mind and shakes an uneasy stirred collective consciousness awake, revealing as in a mirror a thirst for logic and the truth, that has long been an endangered cultural entity.
Lions For Lambs opens in theaters November 9th
PRAIRIE MILLER is a WBAI film critic, and host and executive producer of The WBAI Arts Magazine. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.