A German general said of the British army during the First World War, “I have never seen so many lions led by so many lambs”.
I went along to see the movie Lions for Lambs on the weekend. I was hoping it wasn’t yet another wave-the-flag hollywood version of pax-Americana in action. I needn’t have been concerned. If anything, it was completely the opposite.
“Lions for Lambs”, written for the screen by the same writer as “The Kingdom”, tells the story of three groups entwined in the current American administration’s global war on terror. Tom Cruise plays an up-and-coming US Senator who adorns his office with photographs of himself with Cheney, Bush and Powell while wrapping himself in the flag for the convenience it provides his political ambitions. Meryl Streep plays the part of a veteran journalist for a television news network with an uncanny resemblance to Fox News, who experiences an epiphany during a one-on-one revelation by Cruise of the government’s latest tactic in winning the so-called war.
Robert Redford, who also produced and directed the film, plays an Vietnam vet turned political philosophy professor in deep discussions over a film hour with a promising student, played by Andrew Garfield, in whom he sees great social conscience and political awareness being frittered away through encroaching apathy. Then there is the tale of two special forces soldiers – played by Michael Pena and Larry Bates – sent out by the Senator’s initiative and with the administration’s approval, to undertake a dangerous, frontline mission to bait the Taliban in Afghanistan. These two were students of Redford who, because of their underprivileged upbringing, see the only avenue for them to make a difference in the socio-political struggle America finds herself in today, on the front line as a part of America’s aggressive stance against what the administration sees as ‘evil’.
These three stories play out in what the movie portrays as ‘real-time’. Redford plays a rather mediocre role, I thought, while the Cruise-Streep interaction is every bit as I imagine it might occur. Cruise in particular portrays Senator Jasper Irving as the quintessential neo-con, believing every word he utters and using whatever means necessary to promote himself in the political ranks at the expense of the American public’s perceptions. The two special forces soldiers are, in the movie as in real-life, simply expendable grunts. Fodder to the political machine which grinds on uncaringly to achieve an aim which remains as ethereal today as when it began in November 2001. The movie’s ending is predictable, yet still shocking in it’s portrayal. The message which comes through from the three tales is both poignant and powerful, despite the fact that we who go along to watch what we already know to be fact, impotently accept that there is little we can do to change the global influence of fundamentalist zeal and gross arrogance.
Yes, this flick is right down the line propaganda. It’s Hollywood’s statement – or maybe the statement of those acting in it, I don’t know for sure – that American society has had enough of it’s current administration’s bumbling ineptitude to appreciate the real reasons that it’s culture is under attack. That the empire is burning and no-one wants to own up to playing a very bad violin. I give this movie 8 out of 10 for the message it carries. The acting is good in parts, in fact, excellent in parts. Especially the Cruise-Streep exchange. I’d like to think that Redford stands a chance of having this effort recognised, but I wouldn’t hold out any great hope. Philosophical movies which try hard to get messages across seldom manage to succeed.