Okay, so maybe I was biased from the second the DVD started spinning. For one, because it’s a film by and with Robert Redford, whom I don’t particularly like as an actor or director. And then, because it’s another of those films holding up the scolding finger of morality against America going to war in Afghanistan/Irak/anywhere. Like we haven’t had enough of those already (and they generally tend to be more coherent and to the point than Mr Redford’s two cents). And while seeing the same sort of cinematic criticism flicker across the screen over and over again certainly doesn’t make it less true, or justified, at also doesn’t necessarily automatically make it a good film. Good as in entertaining. Or, maybe more appropriately for a film about war, good as in moving. Both of which Lions to Lambs isn’t.
So we watch, for one hour in the film’s timeline, as some sleek-as-hell senator (Tom Cruise, of course) tries to spoon-feed a journalist with a bit of a faith crisis (a fabulous Meryl Streep) the government’s latest military strategy to speed up things/end the war in Afghanistan. At the same time, some aging college professor looking the teeniest bit bitter about his life (yep, that would be Redford, then), waffles for an hour to get his point across to a not too bothered but, as we are repeatedly assured, gifted student. The point being that said student should do something with his life. Like, change the world. Also within the same hour, two young soldiers – who were once talked into doing something with their lives by guess which professor – are injured behind enemy lines in Afghanistan and lie in the snow for an hour before getting themselves totally pointlessly shot to pieces.
And before you know it the end credits roll, with none of the plot strands actually resolved. Maybe we’re supposed to draw our own conclusions. Like, that America will never change its views on war, however much their tactics may fail. Or that, as long as America doesn’t change its views, those gifted kids don’t stand a chance, however much they try to make something of their lives. But maybe, at this point, we can’t even be bothered to draw our own conclusions any more.
The only reason why I still consider these 92 minutes well spent is, as you may have guessed, Meryl Streep’s performance. Shining brighter even than in Prada glitter, she flawlessly portrays Janine, the wary journalist trying to save her instincts from being crushed under the commercial regime of her news organisation. At once unyielding and fragile while bombarded with publicity catchphrases by a politician she helped up the ladder, Janine’s self-righteous surface finally cracks as her superior tries to pressure her into publishing unverified government propaganda against her better judgement – and her ethincs. And, just like that, a 2-minute nervous breakdown saves a 92-minute film from fading (like those artsy icons of American life in the end credits) into a half-hearted WTF? the minute you zap off your TV screen.
Verdict: Meryl Streep is a fucking genius.