Lions for Lambs

Robert Redford’s new movie Lions for Lambs is struggling at the box office. It’s also been getting largely negative reviews. But since I saw Bill O’Reilly and other right-wing outlets bashing it for its supposed anti-American bias, I felt honor-bound to go see it.

I guess there’s no accounting for taste. I loved this movie. I thought it was completely riveting throughout, despite having almost nothing in the way of action. The plot, such as it is, involves three loosely connected stories. In one, Republican senator Tom Cruise is trying to persuade skeptical journalist Meryl Streep that a great new military strategy is about to be unveiled in the Middle East, and that this will finally turn the tide.

In another, political science professor Robert Redford is trying to convince a bright but apathetic student to become more interested in public affairs. And finally, two of Redford’s former students, now serving in Iraq, run into some difficulties implementing Cruise’s strategy.

Most of the negative reviews I have seen haven’t gotten past the level of juvenilitiy. It’s too wordy! It’s too preachy! Ooooh, I hate that Tom Cruise! Let me just say that I found it a relief to watch a movie in which interesting characters say believable things to each other for several minutes at a time. Movies have gotten so frenetic these days that it’s rare for a scene to last more than thirty seconds.

Cruise, who is actually a pretty good actor when he is not promoting his favorite religious cult or preaching about the evils of psychiatry, is terrific as the smarmy, fanatical right-wing senator. I could think of a dozen prominent Republicans who would say exactly what Cruise was saying (a testament to a well-written screen-play) and would say it exactly the way Cruise said it (a testament to good acting).

What I really liked was the story involving Redford’s character. I think he perfectly captured the frustration some college professors feel towards their work. Professors invariably love their subject, otherwise they would never go through the hassle of getting a PhD and taking their chances in a perilous academic market. Every academic begins with the hopes of doing really important work in their field and inspiring students to do the same.

But as the years go by those hopes tend to fade. Your research becomes increasingly esoteric and ignored. Your students are usually bored and unprepared. You have the self-doubt of wondering whether you’re really making the best use of such talents as you have. That was perfectly conveyed in Redford’s character, a testament again both to good acting and good writing.

We must also dispense with the idea that this is some sort of screed. Even in this dopey, right-wing country of ours, I don’t think we’re so far gone that this surprisingly mild and even-handed movie could possibly be considered a screed. Tom Cruise scores some points in his little debate with Meryl Streep, and Redford is hardly frothing at the mouth against the war. His students who enlisted are presented as heroes. In fact, if you came to this movie not knowing anything about the larger cultural context, it is not really until near the end of the film that an unambiguous anti-war message appears. Only demented right-wing demagogues could see this as anti-American.

I saw the film last night. There were only two other people in the theater except for me, which is pretty bad even for a Monday night. That’s a pity. It’s much a better movie than you’ve probably heard. Go see it.

A final coda. I happened to catch Dennis Miller on O’Reilly’s show discussing what a left-wing freak show Hollywood is. He complained about people like Redford going off about their political views. The only thing he wants from Redford are good movies, he doesn’t care what he thinks about politics.

Right. That’s Dennis Miller complaining about entertainers mouthing off about politics. Where I come from we call that chutzpah.


  1. #1 mk
    November 13, 2007

    I wonder if Dennis feels/felt the same way about “Chuck” Heston, Bruce Willis, Sonny Bono, “Gopher” from the Love Boat, Ahhnold, Clint, Rush, Toby Keith (and pretty much every other Country star), Kurt Schilling, Ted Nugent…etc.

    Man. I think we need a stronger word than Chutzpah.

  2. #2 Don
    November 13, 2007

    Tom Cruise convinced me he was a good actor in “Rainman”. He did a great job in “Collateral” also.

    Had thought about seeing this new movie too, but was put off by the reviews. Will have to reconsider now. Agree that talking, if it has some brains behind it, can be interesting.

  3. #3 mk
    November 13, 2007

    Jack Kemp, Jim Bunning, Steve Largent, Alice Cooper, Dean Cain…

  4. #4 Colugo
    November 13, 2007

    Don’t forget David Zucker, Dennis Hopper, Vincent Gallo, John Malkovich.

  5. #5 Craig
    November 13, 2007

    The Religious Right.

    For all the complaints about “The Gay Agenda”, the only ones pushing an agenda and manipulating the government to push it through is them.

  6. #6 Mark P
    November 13, 2007

    Thanks for the review. As you mention, most of the reviews by the mainstream media are lukewarm at best, so it’s good to get a different perspective.

  7. #7 Stogoe
    November 13, 2007

    I’d seen the previews for this movie, and decided that I didn’t need to go see a movie to get my stomach all tied up in knots about how absolutely insane right-wing demogogues are, and how wrong they have been on every count.

  8. #8 Ex-drone
    November 14, 2007

    Dennis Miller was a much admired comedian until he came out of the far right closet. Since then, his career has plummetted. It may be more correlation than causation, since he was the author of his own destiny by underperforming on his failed talk show. Nevertheless, he has definitely marginalized himself with his political views by shrinking his audience. I wonder how much of that is feeding his bitterness. I shake my head to think that the once clever, ascerbic newscaster on SNL is now a welcomed guest on OReilly. *sighs*

  9. #9 David D.G.
    November 14, 2007

    mk wrote:

    “Man. I think we need a stronger word than Chutzpah.”

    Well, “hypocrisy” comes to mind. But considering the usual style and mindset of most prominent right-wingers, even that term is often woefully inadequate.

    ~David D.G

  10. #10 Louis Doench
    November 14, 2007

    “Dennis Miller was a much admired comedian until he came out of the far right closet.”

    Righto! Dennis Miller was one of my idols back when I was trying my hand at stand up comedy. I even liked the first few seasons of his Talk show. The version we see now hardly seems to be the same person.

    Oh, and I’ve yet to see a film in which Tom Cruise was the reason it was bad. Even if the movie was bad (Top Gun, Mission Impossible 2) Tom was at least OK, if not good.

  11. #11 mk
    November 14, 2007

    Speaking of Miller’s shows. The one on CNBC, he had Eric Alterman on as a guest and it has to be the most embarrassing three minutes of television ever. Miller pretty much crumbles into an emotional mess and begins mumbling incoherent thought after incoherent thought. Alterman just kills. It’s ugly to watch. But also kinda fun!

  12. #12 Alan
    November 14, 2007

    … not to mention these righties (at least according to Celiberal ):

    3 Doors Down, 98 Degrees, A.C. Green, Aaron Tippin, Adam Sandler, Al Leiter, Alabama, Alan Autry, Alan Jackson, Alex Spanos, Allen Asbury, Amy Grant, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Andy Garcia, Ann Margret, Antonio Freeman, Arnold Palmer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arsenio Hall, Art Linkletter, Barbara Mandrell, Barret Swatek, BB King, Bellamy Brothers, Ben Crenshaw, Ben Stein, Bill France Jr., Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Dean, Blake Shelton, Bo Derek, Bo Diddley, Bob Backlund, Bob Hope, Bob Knight, Bobby Allison, Bobby Bowden, Brad Paisley, Brian McComas, Brian McKnight, Britney Spears, Brittany Murphy, Brooks & Dunn, Bruce Boxleitner, Bruce Willis, Buzz Aldrin, Cale Yarborough, Candace Bushnell, Canibus, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Charles Barkley, Charles Durning, Charlie Daniels, Charlton Heston, Chely Wright, Cheryl Ladd, Chuck Norris, Clint Black, Clint Eastwood, Connie Stevens, Cornbread, Craig Biggio, Creed, Crystal Gayle, Dale Dye, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett, Dan Snyder, Dana Carvey, Danny Aiello, Darrell Waltrip, Darryl Worley, Dave Barry, David Robinson, David Silveria, David Spade, Dean Cain, Dean Jones, Debby Boone, Delta Burke, Denise Austin, Dennis Franz, Dennis Hopper, Dennis Miller, Dennis Quaid, Destiny’s Child, Dixie Carter, Don Cherry, Don King, Don Shula, Donald Bellisario, Doris Day, Drew Carey, Droz, Elie Wiesel, Elliott Sadler, Emma Caulfield, Emmitt Smith, Faith Hill, Fleetwood Mac, Frank Bonarrigo, Fred Thompson, Freddie Prinze Jr., Gallagher, Gary Coleman, Gary Oldman, Gary Sinise, Gene Simmons, George Steinbrenner, George Strait, Gerald McRaney, Gladys Knight, Gloria Carlin, Gloria Estefan, Godsmack, Greg Anthony, Hank Williams Jr., Heather Locklear, Howie Long, Iced Earth, Jaci Velasquez, Jackie Mason, Jaclyn Smith, James Caan, James Caviezel, James Earl Jones, James Woods, Jane Russell, Janine Turner, Jason Priestley, Jay Black, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Kent, Jennifer Capriati, Jennifer Hanson, Jennifer O’Neill, Jerry Doyle, Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry Weintraub, Jessica Simpson, Jimmie Johnson, Jimmie Walker, Jimmy Fedd, Joan Rivers, Joe Gibbs, Joe Nichols, Joel Schumacher, John Elway, John Malkovich, John Michael Montgomery, John Millius, John Tesh, John Travolta, Johnny Bench, Johnny Mathis, Johnny Morris, Johnny Ramone, Jon Secada, Jon Voight, Joyce DeWitt, Julie Strain, Karl Malone, Kathy Griffin, Kathy Ireland, Kathy Lee Gifford, Keith Urban, Kelsey Grammer, Kid Rock, Kim Alexis, Kirk Cameron, Kurt Russell, Kurt Warner, Lance Armstrong, Larnelle Harris, Larry Gatlin, Larry Miller, Lawrence Funderburke, Lee Ann Womack, Lee Greenwood, Leeann Tweeden, Lenny Dykstra, Liam Gallagher, Linda Davis, Linda McMahon, Lisa Hartman Black, LONESTAR, Loretta Lynn, Lorrie Morgan, Louise Mandrell, Lyle Lovett, Manowar, Marie Osmond, Marilyn Manson, Marilyn McCoo, Mario Andretti, Mark Helprin, Mark Paul Sebar, Marshall Tucker Band, Martina McBride, Mary Higgins Clark, Matt LeBlanc, Matt Stone, Matthew McConaughey, Meat Loaf, Mel Gibson, Merv Griffin, Michael J. Fox, Michael Martin Murphey, Michael W. Smith, Michael Waltrip, Mick Hucknall, Mike Curb, Mike Ditka, Mike Helton, Mike Piazza, Mike Portnoy, Montgomery Gentry, Morgan Brittany, Naomi Judd, Nappy Roots, Natalie Grant,Neil Armstrong, Nickelback, Noble Willingham, Nolan Ryan, Norm MacDonald, Oak Ridge Boys, Ozzy Osbourne, Pat Boone, Pat Sajak, Pat Tillman, Patricia Heaton, Paul Anka, Phil Vassar, R. Lee Ermey, Reba McEntire, Rebecca St. James, Reggie Miller, Reggie White, Reggie Williams, Ric Flair, Richard Lee Jackson, Richard Petty, Richard Roeper, Richard Roundtree, Rick Schroder, Ricky Martin, Ricky Skaggs, Rob Lowe, Rob Schneider, Robert Conrad, Robert Duvall, Roger Clemens, Roger Penske, Roger Staubach, Ron DiCianni, Ron Silver, Ronald Reagan, Ronnie Milsap, Rusty Wallace, Ryan Gosling, Saliva, Sam Shepard, Sammy Kershaw, Sara Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Scott Glenn, Sean Astin, Sean Elliott, Sela Ward, Shannen Doherty, Sharon Osbourne, SHeDAISY, Shirley Jones, Shirley Temple Black, Steve Irwin, Steve Largent, Steve Young, Steven Curtis Chapman, Stormie Omartian, Susan Howard, Susan Lucci, Susie Castillo, Tanya Tucker, Ted Nugent, Terri Clark, The Rock, Thomas Kinkade, Tiger Woods, Tim McGraw, Tim Slagle, Toby Keith, Tom Clancy, Tom Cruise, Tom Selleck, Tony Danza, Tony Stewart, Trace Adkins, Tracy Byrd, Tracy Scoggins, Travis Tritt, Trey Parker, Trisha Yearwood, Troy Aikman, Ultimate Warrior, Vince Gill, Vince Vaughn, Vincent Gallo, Wanda Sykes, Wayne Gretzky, Wayne Huizenga, Wayne Newton, Winona Judd, Wynn Varble, Yakov Smirnoff, Yaphet Kotto, Yo-Yo Ma, ZZ Top

    However, you will notice both Kathy Griffin & Fleetwood Mac in that list which would be incorrect, so I am suspicious … nevertheless. Also, you will recognize Tom Cruise on that list (an actor in the liberal film of note). At last, where else will you see a list with Ozzy Osbourne smack-dab next to Pat Boone?

  13. #13 windy
    November 16, 2007

    At last, where else will you see a list with Ozzy Osbourne smack-dab next to Pat Boone?

    A list of famous heavy metal songs and their cover versions?

  14. #14 Alan
    November 16, 2007

    At last, where else will you see a list with Ozzy Osbourne smack-dab next to Pat Boone?

    A list of famous heavy metal songs and their cover versions?

    touche !

  15. #15 Der Bruno Stroszek
    November 19, 2007

    Some of those names are wildly questionable – I have a hard time believing Marilyn Manson and Kathy Griffin are standing lock-step with the GOP.

    Didn’t Sam Elliott write a play expressly criticising the Republicans on their use of torture fairly recently? And saying that Mick Hucknall is a conservative is plain crap – one of the reasons he called his band Simply Red was that he is, and always has been, a supporter of the British Labour Party.

  16. #16 Der Bruno Stroszek
    November 19, 2007

    Sorry, that should have been Sam Shepard, not Sam Elliott.

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