Forget whatever you think you may know about Lions for Lambs.
Directed by Robert Redford, the film comprises three intertwined concurrent story lines: Journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) gets the scoop of the year when she interviews Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise), a young, up-and-coming Republican politician with a plan to win the war on terror; soldiers Arian Finch (Derek Luke) and Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Pena) fight for their lives on a remote frozen Afghanistan mountaintop after their helicopter is unexpectedly ambushed; and Professor Stephen Mallery (Redford) tries to spark action within Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield), a promising young political theory student.
More laundry list than plot, screenwriter Matthew Carnahan, who wrote The Kingdom, uses these situations to parrot social and political debates that have raged these past five years across film, television, radio, news and so on. The characters deliver more talking points than story, their development a byproduct of the need to tie all three story lines together, making Lions more polemic zeitgeist than cinematic magic.
Unless you dig deeper, as Carnahan and Redford subtly suggest, and look past all the rhetoric in the film to find the greater message: Major media corporations (talk radio, overly editorialized news, satirical news, etc.) have been commercially exploiting the divisive notion of red state/blue state debate for so long that it is near impossible to take the gray side of any one issue anymore.
Unlike most message movies of today, Redford refrains from overly preaching this crux, and instead shows how paralyzing certainty in truth can be within todays black-and-white ideology, everyone fails. The best you can hope for, as two characters illustrate, is to do so on your own terms.
Hardly the riveting thriller purported in the radio and television ads, right?
Redford elicits some good performances, most notably from Cruise, but the goal here is quite clear: This is a call-to-action message movie, and, on that level, Lions works. Well.
Redford does, however, fail to heed his own message and at times falls victim to his own rhetoric-mongering. Several shots scream Hollywood supports the troops! and one has to wonder how casting unknowns might have dramatically improved the films dynamic.
Still, for a political film that wants its audience to think for itself, Lions is the proverbial diamond in a very red and blue rough.