Pros: Powerful deep concepts brought to vivid focus by superb actors.
Cons: A 90 minute conversation about things that make Americans uncomfortable; like Civic Responsibility.
Lions for Lambs (2007) Directed by Robert Redford
"Nowhere else have I seen such lions led by such lambs."
This story is three conversations. One is between Professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) and a student, Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield). The second is between United States Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) and veteran reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep). And the last, the one that connects the other two, is between two soldiers, the sole survivors of a shot down helicopter in Afghanistan.
Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Peña) and Arian Finch (Derek Luke) are part of an elite force, spearheading a new offensive to take the high ground in Afghanistan, and hold it as part of a new strategy. The author of the strategy is Senator Jasper Irving. The two soldiers met in the class of Stephen Malley, and his ideas prompted them to seek direct action in solving the world's problems, hence, their presence in the military. And now you know how this tale ties together.
Wounded, separated by a short distance, Finch is pinned, and Rodriguez too injured to move. With the Taliban closing in, they prepare to defend themselves.
Meanwhile, in America, Senator Irving has invited Roth, a journalist he respects, who has had good things to say about him in the past to spend an hour with him. And in that hour, he gives her an exclusive about his new offensive into Afghanistan, his plan to win the war on terror.
At the same time, Todd Hayes is in his professor's office, receiving a very interesting proposal. Malley sees potential in the young man. But it is not being realized by his falling attendance. So he offers him a deal he would be insane to refuse. Todd can have a B in his class, in exchange for never showing up again, and never taking another one of his courses. Or he can sit and listen to Malley tell him why he doesn't want him to take that deal. Todd has potential. Todd has passion, and spirit, and a keen mind. And he is fearless. Oh, he feels fear, but then he takes the next step. It is a quality that Malley sees all too rarely. The last time he saw it was in two poor sports scholarship students, Arian Finch and Ernest Rodriguez. As he tells Todd about the two young men who took on his class about engagement, about doing something in the real world, those two men are half way around the world, wounded, being stalked by killers, and rescue is still very far away.
And as these stories unfold, the charming Senator unfolds his bold plan to win in Afghanistan. It is a plan that rings a bell of déjà vu for the old journalist; it is Viet Nam and Abrams again, using military men as bait. I suppose you can forgive the Senator for not remembering; he was only six at the time. But Roth remembers, and she thinks for herself. And she is not buying this line of crap Irving is selling.
That is Todd's gripe too; that the truth is devalued, that the world is run by greedy men who use science and psychology to tell them how big a lie they can tell before people actually choke on it. And Roth, old bullpen warhorse, knows that the new boss is the same as the old boss...but not in her case. Her network was bought by a company, and now the news is not about fact but about ratings and ad revenue.
There is very little action in this movie. What does exist is real action, the brutal messy kind that does not explode prettily, but merely ruins what it touches, whether man or machine. All of the action is around Finch and Rodriguez. Everything else is just conversation. Just words. But powerful words.
Professor Stephen Malley: The decisions you make now, bud, can't be changed but with years and years of hard work to redo it... And in those years you become something different. Everybody does as the time passes. You get married, you get into debt... But you're never gonna be the same person you are right now. And promise and potential... It's very fickle, and it just might not be there anymore.
Todd Hayes: Are you assuming I already made a decision? And also that I'll live to regret it?
Professor Stephen Malley: All I'm saying is that you're an adult now... And the tough thing about adulthood is that it starts before you even know it starts, when you're already a dozen decisions into it. But what you need to know, Todd, no Lifeguard is watching anymore. You're on your own. You're your own man, and the decisions you make now are yours and yours alone from here until the end.
It is a good message for us all. I highly recommend you watch it, and absorb some of its wisdom. We could all use it right about now.