It is amazing how dated this movie seems, even though it was only recently released on DVD. “Hope” for Robert Redford in 2007 looked like a host of college students who had the will and energy to dive into the American establishment in order to change it from within.
Lions for Lambs takes on the war on terror with a healthy mix of hope and skepticism. By that, I mean that the film finds hope only in skeptics younger than 25 years old.
Apparently, anyone over 25 is unlikely, and even unable, to change much, or be able to escape whatever prisons they find themselves in no matter how deeply they understand their world. This movie takes a most positive stance on the potential America’s up-and-coming generation. It is a call to arms – a call to action – a call to dedicate your life to the good of mankind while you are still young enough to. Too bad the movie wasn’t marketed to a younger audience.
This is largely a film of ideas: Should America be fighting in the midst of a culture it doesn’t understand? What is the difference between admitting to making mistakes and articulating what those mistakes are? What mistakes has America made and how do we learn from them? What would victory look like in Iraq? Is “the mainstream media” partly to blame for America’s ability to go to war in Iraq? How do we change the established system of government and its hold on the media? Is there a better actor to play a smarmy, smiley, manipulative, ambitious, Republican senator than Tom Cruise? (Maybe not, but for one of the most interesting – check out Alan Alda in The Aviator)
This film is more like a graduation commencement speech than a story or a movie. In one thread of the story, we are left hanging for almost 2 hours wondering what will happen to the two soldiers that are stranded in the Afghan mountains. But the film is more interested in what their demise will mean. And the story teller is more interested in telling us what it means than in letting us come to our own responses. The film tells us what to think and what (not how) to feel.
Though they don’t have to, big questions can lead to big, vague answers. By telling a story it is possible to flesh out the questions and the answers enough to put those questions into necessary perspective. But a good story needs characters that are rendered compellingly enough live the questions out in a certain way. If your ideas and your desire to motivate are more important than your characters, maybe the commencement speech is a better format for your purposes. This movie mainly fleshes out its ideas with talking-heads and it falls prey to the danger of offering big answers to big questions – beating its opponents at their own game. Sometimes the most effective way to address a big, loud question is with an answer that is quiet enough to hear.