Lions for Lambs (2007)

Rated: R for some war violence and language.
Length: 88 minutes, and not a moment more.
Grade: BDBB=B
Budget: $35 million
Box Office: $70 million ($15 US, $48 Intl, $7 DVD)

Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan, who also wrote The Kingdom.
Directed by: Robert Redford, who obviously had a stellar acting career, and has previously directed The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Horse Whisperer, Quiz Show, A River Runs Through It, and the obscure Milagro Beanfield War.
Starring: Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Michael Pena, Derek Luke, and Andrew Garfield.

This is a simultaneous story told from three perspectives. A veteran reporter is invited to the Senate for an exclusive interview about a new strategy in the war. Meanwhile, two soldiers involved in executing that strategy are in trouble in enemy territory, and the professor who encouraged them to do something with their lives is counseling another bright young student during office hours.

Entertainment Value: B
Despite all the panning from politically minded critics and my own expectation that this would smell like left-wing propaganda, I enjoyed it and found it a fairly interesting film which raised good issues. Also, I thought the overall concept for the structure of the thing was quite well-conceived.

Superficial Content: D+
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence C, Language D, Illegality A
R is correct here. There are a couple of scenes of war violence, including brutal death, and there is a lot of language, including F-words.

Significant Content: B
This one’s a bit harder to figure out because, given the participants, I know for sure that their intent was to make a movie critical of the administration and critical of the war. But I don’t think they succeeded. In fact, the overall message of the movie is that there are an awful lot of noble people in the world trying to make it a much better place, even if they don’t succeed. And there’s a pretty accurate and robust critique of both the media and an excellent portrayal of the impact teachers can have as well.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Again, I thought the concept was quite intriguing, if implausible. Even though it’s a movie that feels like it was trying to be propagandistic, it actually came across much more evenly than it wanted to. Even though the movie wants us to be horrified at the ending, I wasn’t. Also, there’s really no moral equivalence in play here, either. The US soldiers are good, and the enemy are blips on a screen who are fighting on the wrong side.

Discussion Questions:
~What do you think of the choice of Rodriguez and Finch decision to enlist? Do you think Malley was happy with their decision? What do you think of their decision at the end? Would they have enlisted had they known? Do you think of them as heroes?
~Do you think their idea for a year of public service of some kind in the junior year of High School would be a good one?
~Does Irving seem like a schemer or a man legitimately interested in doing what is best for the country? Who seems to win the argument between him and Roth about the war?
~Which is more important, focus on the mistakes made before and blame associated with them or on the future and what we should do now?
~“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” How is this phrase embodied in this movie?
~Should college be thought of as for everyone or should it be geared toward discovering and cultivating those rare particular exceptional people?
~Is Malley a good teacher? Is Roth a good reporter? Is Irving a good Senator? Is Hayes a good student?
~Is the decision to try to do something significant in life only validated by success?
~What do you think of Malley’s assertion that the people who are treated the worst by the United States are always the first to volunteer to defend her?
Overall Grade: B
A heavily criticized but still very interesting film to watch.

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