(Capsule Arthouse Reviews are my attempt to better myself and practice movie snobbery by watching less mainstream movies and more independent films. Not a true review, they're mainly my thoughts on various small run films. I still give an opinion about whether the film is worth watching or not, but keep in mind my cinema taste is janky at best. You can also expect mild spoilers so beware.)
I recently attended a free screening of Lions For Lambs because several scenes were filmed at Pitzer College. It's been a while since I've seen a film that has left me so conflicted. Lions for Lambs has a lot going for it, but it also has some serious flaws. I'm not sure what to make of the finished product.
Lions for Lambs is political thriller that ties in with the War on Terror. It's about three seemingly separate story lines that end up interweaving with each other. Journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) interviews up and coming presidential hopeful Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) on a new offensive in Afghanistan. We see the results of this military plan firsthand through Arian (Derek Luke) and Ernest (Michael Peña). Meanwhile, college professor Dr. Malley tries to convince a slacker student to be more politically active like Arian and Ernest (his former students) did.
Robert Redford directs, stars, and produces this film based upon his belief that college student activism is in a state of crisis. The film definitely reflects this idea, with the central theme essentially boiling down to "You may not change anything, but it's better to try and fail that not try at all." The realist in me finds issue with this, but upon thinking about it more I find it quite profound.
There are several things I like about this film, chief among them the fact that the film is actually non-partisan. I walked into this film expecting a super liberal, pro-Democratic film that would demonize Cruise's character. Imagine my surprise when this turned out not to be the case. I'll admit the film probably skews slightly liberal, but it is made by Robert Redford so that's probably unavoidable.
Another great aspect of this film was the casting. Streep and Redford turn in good performances but Tom Cruise is perfectly cast as the super slick, charismatic Senator with a possible sinister side. It's a role that really meshes with him due to (unfortunately?) his personal life. (A life that seems to bleed onto every project he gets involved in.) Regardless, he's still a solid actor and his performance here is worth watching.
My problem with Lions for Lambs is that the film feels somewhat disjointed. The plots are inter weaved but it's somewhat jarring jumping back and forth in time and space. Other films such as Pulp Fiction have done this well, but unfortunately Lions for Lambs lacks cohesion.
I also take particular offense in college students being portrayed as "low rent Stifflers" (from American Pie). I'm fairly certain not every Southern California student is like this, but at least the student in this film has "potential". He's easily the most cliche character in the plot.
Finally, the message of this film is downright depressing. For a film that is supposed to inspire people to take action I was actually inspired NOT to take action. The ending, while based wholly in reality, inspires a sense of hopelessness. I wonder whether or not the ending should have diverged from reality. Still, I have to admire a film that has such a bleak message and factual ending.
I suppose Lions for Lambs is one of those films that I feel everyone should watch, even if it's not great. I suggest renting this instead of seeing it in the theater though. I'm fairly certain most of my age group is going to avoid this film like a cinematic plague and that fact alone says a lot about why this film is necessary.