It’s not enough for Hollywood to simply make films about the various layers of the Iraq conflict by pandering to one side of the political aisle or the other. In my mind, to be successful the productions dealing with this complicated and wide-ranging topic must engage the complexities of the matter (social, economic, militarily) in a meaningful way, attempting at the very least to initiate a dialogue between contrasting views, opinions, and stereotypes that might clarify the muddled air. Easier said than done. Only Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah comes close to putting a personal face on the human cost of the war (admittedly within a blatantly Hollywood construct), while countless others (Redacted, and now Lions For Lambs), diligently preach at the very worst moment to do so.
Director/Star Robert Redford’s foray into the political hotbed of Iraq consists of three interlocking stories, taking place at the same time, and showing various points of view on the situation. Meryl Streep’s veteran journalist candidly interviews Tom Cruise’s smug GOP Senator, Redford’s wise professor professes to a smart but wasteful student, and Derek Luke and Michael Pena’s special forces team gets shot down implementing a new plan of attack in Afghanistan. All are connected by policy, history, and (in)action, although none of the three stories thankfully overlap.
Redford’s cliff notes version of our current quagmire revels in the obvious points of interest, chasing its tale around the issues just like the impotent policy makers it wants to expose. The most devastating and ultimately interesting theme in Lions For Lambs is the idea of wasted youth, via apathy and war. However, the film’s overhanded jockeying for respect/honor unfortunately limits the scope of these strong ideas, making for a very ordinary and compulsory examination of familiar tragedy. But then again, subtlety has never been Redford’s strong suit as a director.