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Lions for Lambs (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 4/8/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/6/2008

Those who know me and know my love for the movie will roll their eyes when I say this, but it all comes back to Starship Troopers. On the DVD of that film, the filmmakers discuss adapting the novel to the screen and state that one can't film debate. That thought immediately came to mind while watching Lions for Lambs. The movie features three politically-charged stories which contain a lot of high-minded ideas. But, there's not a lot of action here. The challenge for the audience lies in digging through the dialogue to find the true meaning of the film.

As noted above, Lions for Lambs has three separate, but loosely linked stories which are told simultaneously. In Washington, D.C., reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) arrives at the office of Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) for an interview. She's surprised when she's not only granted a private audience with the Senator, but an entire hour as well. Irving has decided to give Roth the exclusive story concerning a new military offensive in Afghanistan which will be used to regain the upper hand in that country. Roth is intrigued by the fact that Jasper is being so open about this with her, and that he's even admitted mistakes which his party has made in the past. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, we see the operation being carried out. An Army helicopter flies through a snowstorm in the mountains of Afghanistan en route to a designated landing point. The helicopter is bombarded by enemy fire and soldiers Arian Finch (Derek Luke) and Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Pena) are thrown from the aircraft and are forced to fend for themselves. At a California university, political science Professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) has requested a meeting with student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield). At the beginning of the semester, Todd had been very engaged in class, but his attendance and participation has began to wane. In Todd, Malley sees not only a student with a lot of potential, but the epitome of a generation which gives into apathy. Can Malley say anything to make Todd care again?

Lions for Lambs comes from Director Robert Redford and Writer Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom), so it's a very politically charged movie. The film addresses the war in Iraq, the conflict in Afghanistan, the biases of the media, the obligations of American citizens, and the apathy of America's youth. Those familiar with Redford will assume that the movie takes a very liberal slant, but I didn't see it that way. In fact, I feel that Redford has worked very hard to walk the middle-ground here. The key is that individual viewers will project their own political views onto the film, especially with the stories concerning the Senator and the soldiers. If you lean to the right, then you will agree with the Senator and feel for the soldier's plight. Those who have more of a left-wing view will see the Senator as a villain and feel that the soldiers shouldn't have been there in the first place. As for the subplots with the reporter and the student & professor, those topics aren't as controversial. It would be hard to argue against the facts that the media doesn't do enough "hard" news today, and that the youth of America has become spoiled and desensitized.

Lions for Lambs may bring up a lot of sensitive topics, but I doubt that the film will spark much debate. This is due to the hands-off approach which Redford has taken in his direction. This movie is incredibly free from emotion and tension. The scenes between Irving & Roth and Malley & Hayes are simply two people sitting in a room talking. Even with the talk gets heated, it's simply not that interesting. There is some action with the scenes involving the soldiers in Afghanistan, and it's difficult to not be concerned with their safety, but, again, there is little personalization here, and the scenes leave the viewer cold. I really hate to say that Lions for Lambs was boring, but some of it was excruciatingly so, and it was no different than watching a Sunday morning news debate show. The only aspect of the film which truly caught my attention was the story concerning why Todd has stopped caring about Malley's class. The other questions -- What will Roth do with her story? Will the soldier's survive? Will the mission be successful? -- ran out of steam long before the movie ended.

Lions for Lambs is an interesting experiment in film (although, it's not an "experimental film"). Given the nature of the movie, this could have very easily been a three-act play, as we get much more dialogue than action. The topics raised her are very topical and most every viewer will have a personal opinion on what is being discussed. Yet, the film generates no heat and it never invites the viewer to be a part of the debate. So, unlike movies such as Gone Baby Gone or No Country for Old Men, where you walk away thinking, "What would I have done?", you simply walk away from Lions for Lambs. It's great to see Robert Redford still making movies and that he's still politically active, but we expect more from him.

Lions for Lambs gets loquacious on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is quite sharp and clear, as it shows basically no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are realistic and natural and the framing appears to be correct. There is no overt artifacting or video noise here. The only defect which I noted was that the scenes in the professor's office seemed overly bright, while the scenes in the Afghanistan night were a bit too dark. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a dialogue-driven drama, the bulk of the audio comes from the center channel. When Roth moves through D.C., we do get some stereo effects from the street noise. The track does come to life during the scenes with the soldiers, as the gunfire provides subwoofer effects, and the A-10s passing overhead generate some very nice surround effects.

The Lions for Lambs DVD has a few extras: We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Robert Redford. This is a pretty good commentary, and Redford sounds as if he's been doing them all of his life. He talks a lot about the story in the film and how each piece was fleshed out. He also talks about the filmmaking style that he brought to the film and how he worked with the various acting styles in the movie. "The Making of Lions for Lambs" (21 minutes) contains comments from the actors, Redford, and writer Matthew Michael Carnahan where they discuss the meanings and tone of the film. There is a nice amount of behind-the-scenes footage here, with an emphasis on how the film was shot and how the three storylines were integrated. "Script to Screen" (8 minutes) isn't that different from the previous featurette, as it contains more comments from Redford and Carnahan who talk about the challenge of filming such a dialogue and theme-heavy movie. The extras are rounded out by the TEASER and THEATRICAL TRAILER for the movie.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long