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'Lions for Lambs' (**)

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Posted: Friday, November 16, 2007 10:00 pm

Director Robert Redford's "Lions for Lambs" is the latest offering in the barrage of liberal messages movie studios have been trotting out for awards season and, as was the case with other recent Hollywood war commentaries, it doesn't appear that anyone is buying what they're selling. As evidenced by the previous failings of both the critically acclaimed "In the Valley of Elah" and the star-studded "Rendition" (neither of which I caught up with in theaters), it looks like mainstream ticket-buyers just aren't up to forking over 10 bucks for a civics lesson they could get for free on PBS.

Unfortunately for Redford, his film is working with a double-handicap: In addition to dealing with a subject that audiences don't wish to confront during their weekly trip to the movies, "Lions for Lambs" is often flat-out boring - and not in the baseless "current events are innately dull" sense, but in a genuinely numbing, "I can't believe they're actually filming this" kind of way. While portions of the movie will be of moderate interest to political junkies, stretches of the film are so surreally tedious that it's akin to watching paint that has already dried.

"Lions for Lambs" (written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, who also penned the infinitely more worthwhile "The Kingdom") is divided into three connected, overlapping segments. In the most interesting, Meryl Streep plays a veteran reporter who has scored an hour-long one-on-one interview with an influential Republican senator (Tom Cruise, exuding his uncanny brand of cockiness and charm) who hopes to enlist her help in announcing a change of strategy in the War on Terror.

The would-be interview quickly dissolves into a debate as the reporter begins to question the validity of the senator's pitch, and he fervently defends what he sees as the only way to salvage victory in the face of a stalemate. What's most fascinating about this segment is the eloquent and logical manner in which Cruise's character trumpets the pro-war line in ways that real-life politicians apparently cannot muster. He wipes the floor with Streep's ineffectual reporter, although I'm not certain that was Carnahan's intent. In attempting to give lip service to the "other side," the screenwriter may have inadvertently given audiences a counter-argument that easily trumps anything the anti-war characters espouse. Funny, that.

The other two segments fall flat. In one, a pair of U.S. soldiers become stranded in the snow-covered mountains of Afghanistan while executing the troop surge advertised in the senator's storyline, resulting in the least exciting wartime action I've seen in quite some time. Yet it's still preferable to the film's third segment, which concerns a college professor (Redford) attempting to inspire an apathetic student (Andrew Garfield) by telling him to attend class more frequently.

Actually, that's the movie in a nutshell: Redford lecturing viewers, at length, on why we should take a greater interest in world affairs. He drones on. And on. At one point, the student lashes out at people who never stop talking, but don't manage to really say anything, either. I wonder what he would have to say about "Lions for Lambs."

"Lions for Lambs" is rated R for violence and profanity.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jwallis@runbox.com.

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