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Vol. LXI, No. 46
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

THE LAMB VERSUS THE LION: Savvy investigative reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep, left) interviews Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) in his Washington office and forces him, by means of clever questioning, to confess that the information he is presenting on behalf of the government regarding the situation in Afghanistan is false.

Lions for Lambs: Pontificating Aplenty in Redford’s Preachy Anti-War Polemic

Kam Williams

If you’ve seen Traffic, Crash, Babel or American Gun, then you’re familiar with the new genre of films that examine a social issue from a variety of perspectives — by interweaving overlapping plotlines as a cinematic device. Perhaps the least successful of these endeavors is Lions for Lambs, an anti-Bush polemic directed by Robert Redford.

Despite its dizzying cuts back-and-forth from scene to scene, designed to suggest a whole fabricated from a juxtaposition of opposing opinions, the truth is that the three parallel stories told here are all advancing the same point-of-view. And rather than allow the audience to draw its own conclusions, this preachy picture hits you over the head repeatedly with talking points lifted right out of the liberal playbook.

The movie’s message might be stated as: “The war on terror is really about oil and was orchestrated by right-wing neo-cons who have used patriotic buzzwords like ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ as a smokescreen to dupe idealistic poor kids into enlisting in a military that has a disproportionate percentage of minorities in its ranks.”

Even if you agree with those premises, you are unlikely to enjoy the ham-fisted fashion in which Lions for Lambs forces it down your throat by telling you how to feel at every turn instead of painting tableaus designed to elicit the desired response.

Redford himself stars in one leg of this trilogy, portraying pontificating Professor Stephen Malley, a Vietnam vet who prods his pupils to make the most of their lives by prattling aphorisms such as “Don’t live over a safety net!” Apparently, something in the sermonizing resonated with two of his former students; Arian Finch (Derek Luke), who is black; and Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Pena), who is Latino.

Through flashbacks we learn that they were token students who had only been able to afford to attend the expensive California college because they were awarded athletic scholarships. Before shipping out to the Middle East, they credit Malley with having inspired them to enlist to serve on the front lines in Afghanistan. This unintended consequence distresses Malley to no end, since he sees them as nave idealists being exploited by an immoral administration waging an unprovoked war of aggression.

Meanwhile, his classroom remains filled with apathetic students like Todd (Andrew Garfield), a party animal who could care less about academics. Malley takes a special interest in this rudderless lost soul, and engages him in a series of heart-to-heart talks behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, the second story has Arian’s and Ernest’s helicopter ambushed by the Taliban while on a mission over snow-capped mountains. After Ernest is wounded and tumbles helplessly into the dark sky, Arian instinctively jumps out to save his pal even though neither is wearing a parachute. They’re soon surrounded by the enemy, but fortunately they have an opportunities to espouse their philosophical views before their “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” style demise.

The third locale is Washington, D.C., and pits veteran investigative reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) against U.S. Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise). She sees through the Republican’s spin about the situation in Afghanistan and refuses to be used as a pawn to propagate a pack of lies. Moreover, like a latter-day Perry Mason, she’s intimidating enough to get the smooth operator to confess off the record, simply by quoting lyrics from The Who’s rock anthem “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

If only exposing corruption were as easy as reciting the right song to a culprit.

Fair (1 star). Rated R for profanity and violence. Running time: 92 minutes. Studio: United Artists/MGM.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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