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LIONS FOR LAMBS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Michael Pena, Andrew Garfield, Peter Berg, Derek Luke
Director: Robert Redford
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 92 Minutes
Release Date: April 8, 2008

“Rome is burning, son!”

Film ***

There were already several films dealing with the war on terror released to theaters before Lions For Lambs, and none of them found an audience. Despite this notion, expectations were big for this high profile, star studded release. Surprisingly, though, even a film starring such huge names as Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise wasn’t enough to lure audiences in.

As the war in Iraq lingers on, it’s clear by this point that audiences don’t want to go to the multiplexes to be reminded of the war and its many effects. If anything, that’s completely understandable. But those who want to seek something extremely provocative will do themselves a favor by seeing Robert Redford’s tremendously structured film.

Right wing critics, who hadn’t seen the film, were quick to label the film as a piece of liberal propaganda. Allow me to set the record straight, it’s not. Redford is an outspoken liberal, but he is a most responsible filmmaker and has crafted a film that explores views on the war from both sides of the political fence.

The simple fact that Redford is able to get a lot across to the audience through a parallel story structure in a 90 minute running time is a neat little accomplishment. Many reviews of the film failed to recognize that quality and seemed to slam the film as nothing more than a tired lecture. Now the film can be considered a series of lectures, but rarely in films do you here characters chat about such provocative issues.

The film, written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom), takes place during the course of an hour and chronicles three simultaneous storylines in that time span. In Washington, D.C., veteran journalist Janine Roth (Streep) has been granted an exclusive one on one interview with republican Senator Jasper Irving (Cruise). The purpose of the interview is to alert the media and the pubic about a new military strategy going into effect that could help in winning the war.

As this interview is being conducted, a one on one exchange of a different sort takes place on the opposite side of the country. On a college campus in California, political science professor Stephen Malley (Redford) has requested a private meeting with one of his best students, Todd (Andrew Garfield). Despite having the best test average of the class, Todd has been missing many classes and appears to be showing signs of apathy towards crucial current events, and Malley wants to know why.

In order to better influence his student’s attitude, Malley tells Todd about two former students of his that gave him hope before deciding to join the army and fight in the war. The students, Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Pena) and Arian Finch (Derek Luke), are the focus of the third storyline. Turns out, after the Senator’s new strategy is put into effect, that the two soldiers are trapped behind enemy lines after their squad is attacked.

The entire package is terrifically engaging, from my viewpoint. What’s more, the actors are in magnificent form. The dynamic between Streep and Cruise is absolute dynamite. Cruise, in particular, is very strong and convincing as a republican politician, who for once in a Hollywood film isn’t depicted as a complete imbecile.

And the byplay between Redford and newcomer Garfield is incredibly strong. This segment plays as a commentary on the apathy of the country’s youth, and it’s done so effectively. The dialogue between them sounds like something you’d hear from a concerned professor and an apathetic student.

At the heart of the film is its structure, which gives the film its power. Redford cuts away from each story segment and goes to another at the right moment, allowing each storyline to intensify as they progress. Credit the work of editor Joe Hutshing (Vanilla Sky, JFK), who has done a most outstanding job.

No matter what your political views are, I think Lions For Lambs is an interesting and important film that anyone concerned with the issues at hand should experience. The issues are debated effectively, are not one-sided at all, and will hopefully inspire us to get more involved, in one way or another. That’s clearly what Redford set out to do with the film, and I think the film is capable of doing so.

Video ****

This MGM release boats a tremendously stunning anamorphic picture. Image quality is consistently clear and crisp, and the level of detail is quite superb. Colors are also strong, and each different storyline setting, from Washington to the Afghanistan war zone, are equally effective in the presentation.

Audio ***

Though this is first and foremost a dialogue-fueled piece, both the 5.1 and DTS tracks deliver strong audio quality. There are periodic war sequences, which provide the standout points of the presentation. Dialogue delivery is top notch, as is the performance of the music score by Mark Isham.

Features ***

Included on this disc is a terrific and informative commentary with Robert Redford, which is extremely detailed just as you would expect from a filmmaker as passionate as Redford. Also featured is a twenty-minute featurette, “The Making of Lions For Lambs”, a ten-minute featurette titled “Script to Screen”, a United Artists Legacy Retrospective, a Theatrical Trailer and Teaser, as well as additional trailers.

Summary:

I applaud Robert Redford for making a film with these kinds of issues in a responsible and passionate manner. Lions For Lambs is a film with multiple points of view on where we are and how we got here. If anything, it’s a film loaded with ideas…which we don’t get that much these days.

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