Monday, November 17, 2008
Lions For Lambs
Lions For Lambs was the first movie Tom Cruise produced for United Artists, the studio he helped form after his very public split with Paramount Pictures.
He wanted his first-at-bat to be a home run.
Instead, he hit a single.
Lions For Lambs tells four distinct stories, each centered on the current war on terror and connected by a common thread. The film follows: two idealistic college students as they volunteer for war duty so they can help make a difference in the world, a college professor who tries to rescue a brilliant student from his apathetic world-view, an ambitious US senator who's willing to do "whatever it takes" to further his career and a journalist who has previously allowed herself to be used as a tool for the distribution of propaganda.
The plot involving the college students (Derek Luke and Michael Pena) who enter the war in order to make the world a better place has the most potential of any of the stories. Luke and Pena are college classmates, and end up in the same Army platoon. Finding themselves in a life-or-death crisis, the soldiers demonstrate a bravery that is compelling, and helps hold the viewers interest.
For a while. A very short while.
Bouncing back and forth between story lines can be an effective technique, as long as each of the components are equally interesting (read Crash, and Pulp Fiction). But that doesn't happen with Lions. The stories peter out over time, each ending with a watered down and cliched conclusion.
Robert Redford (who also directed) is fine as the inspiring college professor. But the segment focused on his story is too obviously an allegory of the general apathy that seems to currently exist in America. His dialogue with a bright but intellectually lazy student contained insights with which I agreed; but, the discussion came off as preachy and sometimes condescending.
Meryl Streep, as journalist Janine Roth, spends most of her time on-screen with Cruise. His Jasper Irving is politically ambitious, and willing to use and disregard people to further his ideas and career. Much of the conversation that takes place between characters Roth and Cruise sounds similar to the debate going on currently in America over the Bush Doctrine, and how America has carried out it's military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I agree politically with the overt message central to the Lions For Lambs plot. But during the movie I felt as if I was at a town hall meeting, listening to a debate about the current war and hearing the same soundbites over and over. The dialogue of the movie--and it is very heavy in dialogue--seemed superficial, and one-sided. So one-sided that it annoyed me.
But that's the effect propaganda can create. Expecially if it's done poorly.