Tom Cruise, Lions for Lambs

David James / United Artists / MGM

Review in a Hurry:  Hey, you know what we just don't get enough of these days? Long rants about war and politics. Thank God Robert Redford has stepped up with this triple take on the War on Terror. Good performances from Redford, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise are wasted in what's basically a dorm-room debate with a couple of action scenes.

The Bigger Picture:  A college professor (Redford) tries to make an apathetic student care about politics while, at that same instant, two of his former students (Derek Luke and Michael Peña) walk into a dangerous mess in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a TV reporter (Streep) interviews the hotshot senator (Cruise) who created the plan that has put the two soldiers in harm's way.

Got all that? Doesn't matter. These three plotlines turn out to be nothing but high-speed delivery systems for speeches as subtle as a brick to the skull. Redford, Cruise and Streep give good efforts, sure, but these aren't characters—they're blogs.

The senator's plan goes pear-shaped, and Luke and Peña's characters are wounded and cut off from their unit. Cruise uses all his charm and teeth to convince Streep to sell his initiative—and his own shot at the White House—to the American people. Streep is torn, which we're shown, embarrassingly, by her singing lyrics from The Who to her boss. Seriously.

The movie's big dilemma, however, supposedly belongs to Redford's student (Andrew Garfield, not really tall enough for this ride). Redford challenges him to make a difference, and he bitches that he'd rather drink beer and get a sweet job, because the whole system kinda sucks anyway. Then we're asked to believe that this whiny little snot's choice of a major is just as important as the sacrifice of the soldiers.

"Rome is burning," Redford snaps at him. Maybe so, but this movie is barely a plastic bottle of Evian against the flames.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  In flashback, Luke and Peña tell Redford what they'll do when they return from combat. Redford says one word: If. As in, if they return. It's a riveting moment, and there should have been more like it.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Share