Even though the trailers made it look annoyingly preachy and didactic (you could say, Haggis-esque), I'd have to call this one a must-see. In its own way, Robert Redford's new film seeks to transcend the polarizing national debate over the War on Terror and find new, common, American purpose. Apologies if my review ends up sounding Armond White-esque but I think he's right about this one in his own review.
In an anonymous California University, an old-school liberal professor (Robert Redford) interrogates a well-off but lazy student about the nature of his cynicism. In Washington, a promising young Republican Senator (Tom Cruise) gives an exclusive interview to an established reporter (Meryl Streep) about a new strategy to defeat the Taliban. And in Afghanistan this strategy is implemented using two Marines (Derek Luke and Michael Pena), both former students of Redford's. It's a talky movie, but it's never a boring one because of the constant stimulation of strong dialogue, acting, and ideas, and because the stakes are simply too high to be boring. Redford lays it all out on the table: Western Civilization, as led by the U.S. government, is in a war against angry medieval idiots. What are you going to do about it? In the movie's most potent moment, Cruise literally asks Streep and by extension, the audience, "Do you want to win the war on terror?" a question which hangs in the air, never resolved. The big surprise of the movie isn't that it takes strongly liberal positions, but that it challenges liberals to move beyond the miserable failure of the Bush administration and look forward to envision success on the global stage with whatever President takes over on Jan. 20, 2009 - success that I don't think that selfish isolationists like Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul have the vision to conceive of.
For a while now, I've been wondering how it's possible for a movie to truly be progressive and actually have an impact at the same time, when so many well-intentioned movies simply play to their own choirs or are ignored by the public. Even though it looks like Lions for Lambs is going to be the latest one to be shrugged off, it deserves a lot better, especially in its central question: what are you, the American viewer, comfortable at home, going to do? Anything? This is classic Hollywood liberalism at its best, urging the complacent viewer out of his or her torpor and into their best possible self, the kind of thoughtful, principled progressive liberalism seen in movies from High Noon to A Man for All Seasons to Good Night and Good Luck (even though I'm sure Armond would probably disagree with all three of those). Redford is telling us that we need to get beyond the sloth that cynicism breeds and get off our butts, simple enough.