Talking Movies

November 17, 2019

From the Archives: Lions for Lambs

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

A Republican Senator unveils a new strategy for the War in Afghanistan to a liberal journalist. Simultaneously we follow two of the soldiers involved, while their politics professor explains their lives to a disillusioned student.

Wow, Tom Cruise has gotten old. This will be the first thing that strikes you when you watch Lions for Lambs. Gone are the cheekbones of Top Gun behind some newly flabby jowls as the Cruiser heads inexorably towards 50, at which point his career as a heroic leading man will abruptly end. It’s like a rule, ask Michael Douglas about it. The second thing that will strike you is that this film is a disguised play. There are three fixed locations, each of which features two characters talking for an hour, and we cut between these with some flashbacks. Michael Pena needs to get a new agent or just move to Broadway because following on from his World Trade Centre two-hander with Nicholas Cage he’s once again immobilised in a god-forsaken locale heroically musing on patriotism and other issues with a colleague. Screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan has defended this staginess. He claims a lot of dialogue is needed to engage with the War on Terror on any meaningful ideological level.

Tom Cruise as the ambitious Republican Senator Jasper Irving and Meryl Streep as the cynical liberal journalist Janine Roth clash to good dramatic effect but you can’t help feel that while Cruise is given some good arguments he’s never going to be allowed to win. Robert Redford’s arguments as the Berkeley professor Dr Malley are hampered by his own screen image, particularly 1972’s The Candidate which opined that getting elected was possible only by abandoning all your convictions. Warren Beatty campaigned for George McGovern in 1972 while Redford justified apathy. Nixon won that election by a whopping 23% so it’s a bit rich that Redford now hectors young student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield) about political engagement. The most involving segment of the film involves Lt Col Falco’s (Berg) desperate search for his two missing soldiers and his anger at bad political leadership.

Carnahan also scripted last month’s war on terror thriller The Kingdom which was very emotionally involving but couldn’t maintain the intelligence of its opening. This film seeks to be that edgily intelligent all the way through but Carnahan’s level of political insight is only that of Michael Moore’s at the end of Fahrenheit 9/11. The worst victims of American capitalism are first to volunteer to defend that very system against foreign attacks. This film never adequately explains the logic of that choice. Pena and Derek Luke’s highly intelligent students abandon college to fight in a hopeless war. Redford deserves praise for his emotionally engaging depiction of military camaraderie but Carnahan’s script, while interesting, does not persuade us that the choice of these young men was anything but suicidal at worst or deeply misguided at best.

3/5

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