In Which Lions for Lambs Preaches Under False Pretenses

by Benjamin Mercer

Lions for Lambs

dir. Robert Redford

88 minutes

A well-respected journalist sits down for an exclusive interview with an arrogant young Republican senator. A political science professor at an unnamed “California university” stages an intervention with his once-promising student who has become addicted to political disillusionment. Two American soldiers in Afghanistan fight for survival against the unfriendly elements and the even more unfriendly Taliban fighters.

An audience chortles.

These four storylines each play out in real time.

Lions for Lambs, directed by Robert Redford, does not really have a narrative, and its schematic structure doesn’t lead anywhere. Its elements do not add up to any solutions. It’s more like a Sudoku. At some point it is finished, but it’s just an empty pattern.

Tom is freaking about how this movie is tracking.

The film opens with everyone carefully studying their charts: the senator his opinion polls, the professor his attendance book, etc. If nothing else, I suppose Redford’s film represents the next step in the discursive evolution of the domestic Iraq drama.

In the Valley of Elah hid behind the biggest bar in the poll; in Lions for Lambs, the smaller bars enter into the dialogue, though their conduits are made of straw.

This movie amounts to two superficial arguments and an artificial action set-piece.

four of these things are not like the other. j.j. abrams on the right

Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep, the senator and the journalist, respectively, and Robert Redford and Andrew Garfield, the professor and the student, respectively, verbally spar in cushy offices on opposite coasts.

Michael Peña and Derek Luke struggle to die the most soldierly deaths possible in a rugged slab of Afghani terrain that strongly resembles the Agro Crag in its fake-looking angularity. Nobody has a nuanced opinion. Everyone is complicit in the war.

“I Became A Volunteer” — Hot Chip (mp3)

Cruise plays Senator Jasper Irving like Frank T.J. Mackey filtered through dozens of savvy image consultants. He is completely unbelievable, but, of the film’s three strands, the Cruise-Streep one has the highest camp value.

grrrr get me my chief of staff!

During the course of their conversation, hardly any information at all is exchanged in a very spirited fashion. We are supposed to believe that Streep leaves this meeting with some huge story, and that there is some kind of clear moral alternative to reporting it as related by Cruise. Then the script calls for a hot flash back at her network office, and Streep’s internal professional conflict goes hormonal.

No hysterics across the country in California. Professor Redford keeps his cool, even while he’s trying to rattle a student named Todd Hayes (Garfield) out of underachievement mode. The reportage of Redford’s dutifully kept attendance book? He’s not there.

Over the course of the office hour, there are a lot of what-happened-to-yous, to which Garfield makes lame time-management excuses (girlfriend, fraternity). Then there are some what-really-happened-to-yous, to which Garfield finally admits the ghastly truth that he has become cynical. (For the basic tenor of the undergrad’s comments, see Justin Bartha’s civil eye-rolling in the trailer for National Treasure: Book of Secrets).

I am still a college student. I know what office hours are. I probably used to like having heated debates late at night in common rooms. I’ve got sort of a cynical tone going on.

an actual positive review of this movie

I think that makes me the target audience for Lions for Lambs, but this message movie has no message other than that there is a problem and young people should realize it. It’s a fine, if slight, point, but dishonest presentation.

If you watch carefully, it becomes apparent that the venerable prof has led his student into his office under false pretenses. Garfield agrees to bring Redford his morning Starbucks. But later, Redford surreptitiously replenishes his coffee cup from a thermos on his desk. Redford has his own coffee all along. How are we supposed to trust this man?

Benjamin Mercer is a senior at Brown University. This is his first appearance on This Recording. He blogs at Good Plot.


Kobe made us happier than we have ever been.

Sunday links filled up a father’s day.

Britney shebanged to victory.

Nothing matters, nobody cares, and you are free.

3 thoughts on “In Which Lions for Lambs Preaches Under False Pretenses

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s