Boasting a skilled director in Robert Redford, a strong cast (which includes Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise) and a supposedly powerful storyline (dealing with some very heavy subjects) gives a great starting point for this movie but 'Lions for Lambs' never builds on everything it has going for it, with its final output sinking well below expectation.
Three stories are loosely intertwined here - all revolve around the War on Terror and its impact on US citizens. In a plush office Senator Jasper Irving (Cruise) is being interviewed by weary political hack Janine Roth (Streep). The senator is buzzing as he talks about the latest strategy to win the war, a policy which the journalist sitting before him finds questionable.
Cut to Afghanistan, where US soldiers Ernest (Pena) and Arian (Luke) are part of the team who will test out this new strategy, later finding out that not every scenario has been planned for when they find themselves deep in enemy territory without protection.
Elsewhere, college professor Stephen Malley (Redford) is trying to instil some sense of life-values into his lazy but gifted student Todd Hayes (Garfield), who is disillusioned with the world and doubtful that he can affect change in his lifetime. Malley, who previously taught soldiers Ernest and Arian, refuses to accept his defeatist attitude, spilling tales of heroes past to the young lad in an attempt to move him and thus spur him into action.
Problems are many with this movie, which is already being billed as an Oscar contender. Firstly, the three narratives don't complement each other, with Redford's preachy personal worldview scenes seeming out of place when juxtaposed with the more serious content of the other two stories on display. This serves only to diminish their overall impact, with the college professor storyline surplus to requirements.
In this regard also, the script could have been tighter. The political interview and the soldiers' journeys are convincing, with uncomplicated and direct dialogue. The student-teacher narrative, however, feels forced, drawn out and far too wordy - as if trying to make a point for the sake of it, but failing miserably. And while initially seeming like a political and media commentary, 'Lions for Lambs' fails to rock the boat with its approach to either subject.
For what it's worth Streep and Cruise tackle their roles with a convincing gusto - Streep playing the world-weary, cynical journalist with a real passion and Cruise playing ultra-confident as well as he always does. But their performances, while credit-worthy, are not enough to save this movie from descending into a dreary spectacle, which ultimately says very little about any of the subjects that it broaches.