Robert Redford´s Lions for Lambs brings together a rare trio of headliners (the director flanked by Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep), and the stars deliver with gusto; supporting cast also delivers, especially newcomer Andrew Garfield.
What doesn´t deliver, however, is a gung-ho, dialogue-heavy script by Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom) that paints in broad strokes and leads nowhere except to underline a political viewpoint. Still, the stars make the film engaging enough to have fun with, even if it doesn´t have the lasting effect the director had likely hoped for.
We follow three separate storylines, connected thematically and with the thinnest of plot devices: Young Senator Jasper Irving (Cruise) meets with a reporter (Streep), slyly manipulating the facts while giving her an exclusive about a new strategy in Afghanistan
Meanwhile, idealistic professor Dr. Malley (Redford) discusses the future with a talented but apathetic student (Garfield).
And two of Malley´s former students, Arian (Derek Luke) and Ernest (Michael Peña) are stranded on an Afghan mountain after their helicopter is ambushed.
The Cruise/Streep segment is easily the best of the bunch, with both stars in top form; Cruise is as magnetic as ever as the slimy Irving – so good, in fact, that he´s even likable as the Senator, and almost has us believing his tripe, despite scribe Carnahan´s attempts to paint the character as a simplistic villain.
Overall, the movie is basically a filmed stage play, and while interesting at that, it´s not Mamet; though there are some terrific lines interspersed (“oh, I´ve got the ulcers – the question is whether or not they´re bleeding”) the majority of the dialogue simply lacks the inventiveness needed to make the film a memorable experience.
It´s compelling enough while you´re in the cinema, even if director Redford has turned in his most cinematically dull feature to date. One wonders how this timely and highly political film will age over the next few decades.