In a world with heightened political turmoil and a president who, according to his approval rating, has been identified as one of the worst in American history, it would seem that political thrillers would be profitable. Frustration over the war in Iraq has led to a rise in awareness of the public and the question surrounding why our nation has become entrenched in a war that seems to have no end in sight have become daily conversation fodder. With the growing questioning of our government and the approach it has taken to the War on Terror, one would assume that recent political thrillers would be bankable at the box office. Sadly, the political thrillers of this year have failed to achieve success at the box office. Films such as “Rendition” came and went in theaters relatively quickly, despite high-quality performances. However, perhaps these films are telling the audience something they already know, that our country has used coercive methods in order to find terrorists, and that there have been substantial mistakes made in both the war in Iraq and the War on Terror.
Enter “Lions for Lambs,” the latest political thriller to grace the big screen. This film showcases itself as a conversation piece, examining the problems that have occurred in the world since 9/11. “Lions for Lambs” should have been the political thriller that Hollywood needed, as it combined star-power – with Tom Cruise, Meryl Steep and Robert Redford – with a hot discussion topic. However, there is a substantial problem with the film; it fails to fully examine the scope of the issue. It is a dull, 90 minute film that never really gets going. While “Rendition” showed what is occurring, “Lions for Lambs” showed procedure, to a degree, never fully examining the issue enough to give the audience the magnitude of why there is such debate over the way the War on Terror has been handled.
The film begins after two determined students, Arian (Derek Luke) and Earnest (Michael Pena), take the cue from their political science professor, Dr. Malley (Robert Redford), to do something with their lives. Much to the dismay for Dr. Malley, the two promising students have enlisted in the United States military.
Flash-forward a few years and the boys are fighting for survival in the mountains of Afghanistan as they have been lost from their platoon. At the same time, Dr. Malley attempts to make a difference to another promising student named Todd (Andrew Garfield).
While this is occurring, a charismatic Republican senator, Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise), outlines a new plan for how to handle the War on Terror to a television journalist (Meryl Steep). This new plan could greatly affect the lives of Arian and Earnest. Each of these players has a drastic effect on what could happen in their lives and the world.
“Lions for Lambs,” like many films, tries to be so much more than it actually is. The movie presents itself as a contemporary thriller that will spur conversation and desire out of moviegoers. However, it is too convoluted with three meandering plots that it amounts to very little.
Clocking at slightly over 90 minutes, the movie moves from one needless point to another. Instead of charging up the audience, the movie tells people what they already know. Of course there were mistakes in Iraq, of course the government could have handled things better; that much the public already knows.
However, what we do not know is why those mistakes were made, and how we learn from the mistakes of the past. There is no power in this film, just dialogue that is boring and does not enlighten.
Of the three story lines, the only one that provides any interest is the one about the soldiers stranded in the mountains of Afghanistan. Pena and Luke invoke their characters with a depth that is lacking in the rest of the film. It is also interesting to observe how the military goes about conducting their rescue. This story is given the greatest amount of screen time, allowing the audience to understand where they came from.
The other two meander in and out of pointless issues. No questions are answered, but plenty are raised. Why did Redford’s character choose this student? What does he see in him? How is a junior senator given so much power? Nothing is answered. Two-thirds of the movie fails to examine character, instead relying on the events going on in the other story to propel it beyond the mundane tale weaved throughout this film.
The performances are equally dull. Cruise never really draws the kind of screen presence needed to pull a role of this magnitude off. He seems like a teenager pretending to be a senator. It was also unbelievable that the writers chose to make his character a Republican from Illinois, which has become one of the most, if not the most, Democratic state in the Midwest.
Streep, who is meant to be a hard-nosed journalist, also lacks depth. Instead of asking the tough questions, her character dances around issues, never fully exploring the positions taken. She is also very plain, showing zero emotion. Her reluctance to ask the tough questions could be seen as a commentary on how new reporters, in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq, failed to ask the Bush administration any tought questions.
Redford’s professor is also very cold and callous. He does not seem like he actually wishes to help his students. Redford, who also directs the film, fails to envoke any emotion in the characters. Perhaps the short running time can be blamed on the poor quality of the actors and their characters.
In the end, “Lions for Lambs” is a clunky political thriller. It wants to be something philosophical, but is anything but. One would think that would provide something of interest. However, it drags through 90 minutes of slow, painful torture, probably similar to what the Bush administration inflicts on suspected terrorists.
Chris Bashore is a fourth-year student majoring in political science. He can be reached at CB588901@wcupa.edu.