Friday, November 9, 2007

A lame debate poses as a movie

Summary: "Lions for Lambs" is the first movie Robert Redford has directed in seven years. The layoff seems to have hurt. Redford, who has brought some fine movies to the screen, makes the kind of mistakes you'd expect from a rookie: "Lions for Lambs" is didactic, under-dramatized and lacking in emotional power.

Some critics may consider "Lions for Lambs" Redford's most overtly political movie yet. I don't buy it. "Lions for Lambs" could have benefited from being more of an impassioned screed and less of a thinly dramatized version of a debate that might be too balanced even for public TV. Redford employs some heavyweight actors (including himself), but they're pushing around a pipsqueak of a premise, parceled out in a script by Matthew Michael Carnahan, who also wrote "The Kingdom."

The presence of Redford -- as well as Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise -- does surprisingly little to charge a series of loosely connected vignettes, as the narrative hops from one situation to another in an attempt to send a wake-up call to a slumbering nation.

In one of these episodes, Redford plays Dr. Stephen Malley, a political science professor who's trying to convince a bright but disillusioned student (Todd Hayes) to turn onto politics. Malley wants his young protege to drop his cynicism before it becomes crippling. In another episode, two of Malley's former students (Michael Pena and Derek Luke) fight in Afghanistan. Malley opposed their joining the military, but acknowledges that at least they took some kind of action.

Finally, Streep plays television reporter Janine Roth. She's summoned to the office of Republican senator Jasper Irving (Cruise) for an exclusive interview. Irving tries to convince her that he's authored a new military plan to change the course of events in Afghanistan. In possession of a "big story," Roth wrestles with her conscience because there's a strong possibility that the senator may be asking her to carry his water in another pending fiasco.

The Cruise/Streep segment, set mostly in the senator's office, probably qualifies as the film's best, but who needs a movie composed of arguments rather than flesh-and-blood characters struggling to find the kind of deeply felt dramatic truth that eludes "Lions" during most its 90 minutes?

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