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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

LIONS FOR LAMBS


LIONS FOR LAMBS (2007). Director: Robert Redford. NOTE: On occasion Great Old Movies will review more recent films of interest.

Professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) talks to an underachieving, disaffected but intelligent student Todd (Andrew Garfield) whom he thinks might muff an opportunity to amount to something. During their conversation Malley brings up two minority, less privileged former classmates of Todd's -- Ernest (Michael Pena) and Arian (Derek Luke) -- who volunteered to serve in the Armed Forces in Afghanistan because they wanted to take a stand and be part of something. Malley doesn't know that these two young men are part of a new military initiative that has begun in Afghanistan, something that is the brainchild of Republican Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise). As the professor and the student converse, so, too, do Irving and veteran TV journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep), who hopes to burrow through Irving's smugness and get some real meat out of him for her interview. She knows, however, that the network will just swallow and report whatever Irving tells them. These discussions are interspersed with scenes from Afghanistan, where Ernest and Arian are trapped by members of the Taliban.

Redford (filming a script by Matthew Michael Carnahan) takes on the media, the Republicans, the war on terrorism, social inequality, societal and personal indifference, the obsession with celebrities, ambitious-driven politicians, and so on in a 90 minutes that moves fairly quickly. It would be easy to dismiss Lions for Lambs as somewhat devoid of plot and action, as well as rather preachy and obvious -- all of which it is -- but it's also well-meaning, makes some good points, and is at least about something, unlike most of the films that are being made today. The scenes with the soldiers in Afghanistan are very moving, as well. Cruise is always at his best playing shallow media-savvy characters, so he's okay in this picture. Redford is effective enough as the professor, and Streep is simply excellent as Roth. Garfield, Pena and Luke are solid as the young men.

Verdict: Not for all tastes, but surprisingly effective. ***.

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