Friday, November 9, 2007

Lions for Lambs

“The problem is not with the people who started this. The problem is with us, who do nothing.”

Robert Redford‘s latest flick is what we would call a message film. The characters themselves aren’t that important; they are only there to promote the message the director and writer want to convey. The odd thing about the film is, for a message film, it’s all over the place.

The film moves through three different storylines. The first involves a professor (Redford) trying to motivate on of his brightest but most apathetic students (Andrew Garfield). The second involves the preemptive Republican nominee for President (Tom Cruise) giving an interview to a reporter (Meryl Streep) about a new military strategy. The third story involves a group of Army Rangers (including Michael Pena and Peter Berg) making an attack inside Afghanistan.

It doesn’t really matter how the different threads connect, but if you care go see the film or simply check out the trailer. What is important is the message of the film and what it sets out to say about America, our government, and our responsibilities and duties both at home and overseas.

Although the performances are all quite good I had more than a few issues. I never bought Cruise as a Presidential nominee, though I could buy him as a Senator promoting his own agenda. Nor did I buy Streep as the ace reporter who becomes too easily flustered by the circumstances and events in which she finds herself.

The film has no coherent narrative as events, flashbacks, and different stories are layered one on top of another, and for a message film it is eerily unmoving and unfocused in its attack as it points and accepts blame in all directions. One of the most interesting points however which I liked about the film was the scene between Cruise and Streep in which he implicates the media in the current situation of Iraq. It’s a slow build up to the scene and it works quite well (though Streep’s later scene with her editor describing the interview is simply dreadful). If the rest of the film had been handled with similar care I might be more inclined to give it a higher review.

The film is hurt by the contraption of the three separate stories which muddles the message of the film to no end. Part of the film feels like an Army recruitment film and part feels like an indictment of all current military and government operations. I can’t quite bring myself to recommend such a flawed and unfocused film, but there are some important issues that it does cover, if you can get over the heavy-handed diatribe on how they are presented, that are worth hearing and discussing.

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