• Pages

  • Site Sections

  • Tags

  • Archives

Lions For Lambs – wanted – an angry Liberal and an passionate Moderate

never give up

never give up

Lions For Lambs – Robert Redford

Lion For Lambs fails its own ethic. Its central message is that a better future than the appalling post-9/11 mess of US foreign and domestic politics, requires its brightest and best young people to become engaged in social and political affairs and not to evade the deep challenges this poses through a shallow disaffectedness. However justified.

Yet the film itself, despite its clearly sincere liberal credentials, does exactly what it preaches against: it refuses to confront the issues it addresses head on, courageously and without self-deception. It allows itself to fall prey to the most ignoble and specious argument advanced by Mr Bush and Mr Blair – that to be opposed to a war, especially Iraq, must be equated with failure to support and esteem the men and women engaged in that war in your country’s name. The film equivocates on this issue by first using the morally ambiguous Afghanistan conflict rather than the more starkly polarised issues of the Iraq invasion. Then it tries to balance this cynically false equation by illustrating its central theme of engagement through the story of two idealistic talented young men who enlist to fight in Afghanistan.

I have long admired Redford’s commitment to liberal issues: so I am deeply disappointed to have to say that for me this movie both in quality of argument and narrative focus, fails to live up to its own morality. Where we should have passion we have reasonableness; justifiable outrage is diluted into a kind of rational, resigned idealism; and despite the desperate need to address a deeply serious, escalating crisis in democracy, LFL reduces the inescapably political issues to a question of individuals simply making good moral choices. The desire to get your liberal message over to as many people as possible is fine unless you strip from it all the passion, anger and moral indignation that the reality you portray requires. What John Kerry proved was that the American people will never be persuaded by a wishy-washy ‘nice-guy’ under-the-counter liberalism. They want conviction, courage and passion in the man who they will elect to lead them. And they are right in that at least. Despite the dire consequences of that principle in reality. To be elected a liberal President requires nothing less than with passion and courage – to run as one.

It is therefore what is missing not what is in Lion For Lambs that is most disturbing. It is depressing that an actor with such a solid reputation in the business as Redford, appears not to have been able to generate enough funding to make the film he wanted. It is a mere 90 minutes and consists largely of two extended dialogues; first between Redford’s Political Science Professor Stephen Malley and brilliant but disaffected student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield); and then between charismatic Republican Senator Jasper Irving (Cruise) and supposedly serious journalist Janine Roth (Streep). As these two dialogues lack any convincing dramatic force, the narrative cuts back and forth between the dire plight of ex-Malley students Rodriguez and Arion fighting for their lives as they implement the bright, shiny (but fatuous) ‘new strategy’ with which Irving is going to avenge 9/11, defeat the Taleban and win the hearts and minds of Afghanis over to US style and US secured democracy. To Streep’s suggestion that this would require a permanent US military presence in Afghanistan Cruise almost pityingly corrects her – “not permanent, constant.” There’s a bit of dialogue that rings true. Whatever it means.

Streep is fine as ever but simply has nothing worthwhile to say. Ostensibly representing the conscience of serious journalists who failed in their First Amendment duty to expose the lies that justified the Iraq adventure, Janine Roth contents herself with a few ironic asides during her exclusive interview with Irving and some unconvincing emotional angst about whether to put it in the paper. What the fictional character of Roth implies and the morally wary stance of Redford’s film demonstrate is the all-too-depressing and believable fact that savvy politicians, benefitting from seriously effective media advice, have managed to virtually neuter the independence of a once proud US Press without which Nixon would have gone in to a lauded and graceful retirement.

Everything in the film belies its ostensible message. Its directorial perspective is that corporatism in the media and government is so firmly entrenched that nothing will break through it. Todd mocks Malley with a position recalling Yossarian in Catch-22: when Yossarian was criticised for being unpatriotic by trying to find ways to avoid going on bombing missions that killed everyone in the end – he simply observed that if everyone else was trying to avoid flying, he’d be a damn fool not to do the same. Malley affects to be unconvinced by Todd’s argument with much fatherly advice about the definitive nature of his decisions at this stage of his life. But it is Malley, and therefore Redford who is unconvincing because Todd is absolutely right that his personal, moral decision cannot, will not change anything unless it has a meaningful social and political context within which it has at least a chance of being effective.

Perhaps through lack of money and a patchy screenplay, Redford has made a sincerely political film. He just left out the politics.

Leave a Reply