Lions for Lambs is a meandering commentary on public ignorance, but doesn’t have the focus or the courage to single out a specific flaw in the American system.
The story is split into three different sections (each anchored by its star actor) which makes for a disjointed back and forth plot. But it isn’t the debate that these topics should spark, but a wishy-washy stance on nothing in particular. Politics, the media, military involvement overseas, public awareness, etc. All viable options that are introduced, but never focused on. The film is mostly just lip service.
Robert Redford, who has had plenty to say about the government during his promotional tour, says very little in his film, instead just proposing a military hypothetical and a series of dead-end commentaries.
While chastising his student for becoming apathetic he says, “You’re great with words. But you know what would make them even better? Is if they had a heartbeat.” I wish that Redford had followed his own advice. His film might have made an impact. “More than just talking.”
Redford’s segment at least attempts to discuss the issues with a resemblance of depth and purpose. The not-so-subtle message of “get involved” is heard loud and clear from the other side of his comfy desk and Starbucks coffee. But the slacker role could have been an empty seat and Redford could have simply lectured into the camera to accomplish the same goal. What’s worse is it wasn’t remotely interesting to watch Uncle Sam and his student wax philosophical about the state of the union.
Tom Cruise plays a smiling Senator attempting a charismatic, preemptive media leak to a veteran reporter (Meryl Streep). The two sit quietly and engage in “high-minded debate” on the future of the war, neither rising above a low simmer. They exchange metered, respectful responses of mutual admiration, which translations to the audience as dull discourse.
Derek Luke and Michael Peña are two soldiers caught up in an ill-conceived, frantic deployment initiative to secure strategic points in Afghanistan. From a story perspective, they’re the only two characters with any development. The only two people we really care about in the ensemble. Through flashbacks we learn how and why they became committed, including a great scene in front of their college classmates.