Lions for Lambs Movie Review
Earlier this year, screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan pressed similar buttons with his Middle East muscle thriller The Kingdom. He uses his current pulpit to chastise the Bush administration for blindly leading America into a winless war; the national media for blindly following our leaders in the weeks, months, and years following September 11; and Generation Y for retreating to its PlayStation consoles as opposed to penning protest letters to local politicians.
Loosely set in real time, Lambs tracks three storylines that unfurl over the course of one hour. In his Capitol Hill office, GOP savior Sen. Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) grants reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) an exclusive interview. He quietly confesses that Iraq was a mistake before mapping out our country's next strategic international operation in Afghanistan.
Across the country, California college professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford, who also directs) chastises a once-promising student (Andrew Garfield) for wasting his potential. Malley's motivational tool is a story about his two best students who, against the teacher's wishes, chose to serve their country by enlisting in the military. Not surprisingly, Malley's scholars (Michael Pena, Derek Luke) are the lead soldiers in Irving's Afghani front, and things aren't going as planned for the brave paratroopers.
Carnahan writes with Aaron Sorkin's topical urgency. Actually, until the end credits rolled, I wrongfully assumed the West Wing creator wrote Lambs. Sorkin has a script in play for the Oscar season, but it's Charlie Wilson's War, which he adapted for director Mike Nichols. Both stories handle military maneuverings in Afghanistan, so we'll have to wait until next month to learn which script is more politically biased.
As for Carnahan, he cribs some of Sorkin's long-standing traits. The loquacious Lambs is informed, unabashedly opinionated, admirably current, and heavy handed. Carnahan can twist a phrase, too. When Roth tries to catch Irving when he says we'll need a constant presence in Afghanistan to succeed, he succinctly deflects her advances by explaining, "I said 'constant,' not 'permanent.'"
As with Sorkin, Carnahan's characters also exist on level playing fields, so a slacker college student can sound as intelligent about America's foreign policy as a two-term senator. The scripter supplies a palpable lack of faith in the system, which Redford embraces. The preachy Lambs assigns plenty of blame to the government, the media, and the military for the current mess we're in.
There's no getting around the fact, though, that the body blows landed by Lambs -- that the Iraqi conflict was a mistake; that our armed forces trusted faulty intelligence; that the media failed to demand answers from our leaders -- would connect with more crippling force if they were spoken by actual senators, soldiers, college professors, and journalists instead of seasoned actors reading lines from a polished screenplay. Cruise can, and does, sound convincing when he applies his trademark salesmanship tactics to the Irving role, but I'd prefer to hear a real politician speak so honestly about Iraq. Perhaps Carnahan's script can be summarized by a few lines Redford tells his student: "You're great with words, son. But do you know what would be even better? If they had a heartbeat."
Off to the slaughter.