While it may have had an all-star cast boasting the likes of Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise, Lions for Lambs appeared without a splash. In fact, it hit audiences with a dull and disappointing thud. Honestly, that partially surprises me, partially doesn't, and partially disappoints me. The film is by no means a masterpiece, nor is it a powerful and hard-hitting political thriller, action film, or drama. However, it does pack a punch against apathy and disinterest, and does so with a passionate and measured hand.
The film focuses on three main interactions – the journalist (Streep) and the politician (Cruise), the professor (Redford) and the student (Andrew Garfield), and the two soldiers and old friends (Michael Pena and Derek Luke), who are in Afghanistan. Each character provides a face to an aspect of today's current war-filled society -- one that brings it out of abstract thought and the printed word.
Each is, at the same time, both flawed and honorable. The journalist is trying to get at the truth, but must face her own choices in the business-infected world of news. The politician desperately wants to be the hero to end the war, but cannot completely keep his ambitions out of his decision making. The professor wonders if he's making a difference, while the student is sure that there is no difference to make. And finally, the young men in Afghanistan represent the best of intentions and actions, but without the positive consequences.
From there, it's discussion, whether they're in the safe halls of an office, or precariously perched on a snowy mountain far, far away. Cruise's politician is trying to convince the truth-searching journalist that the time for immediate and definite action is now, and that this will finally, and ultimately end the war. It is, in many ways, an eerie reflection on Cruise's personal life. Both his character and his self believe wholeheartedly in something that is met in some circles with persistent derision and in others with accepting, agreeable arms. Meanwhile, as he vainly tries to bring Streep on his side, Redford's professor tries his hardest to inspire and invigorate a student with much potential who has given up critical thought and action for apathy and fraternity laziness. The prof does so, in part, by discussing two other students with potential, much different than this privileged student, who are the two young men in Afghanistan.
While each group is so very estranged from the others, they are all connected, providing the reality that the others are talking about. It is in this way that the film thrives. Instead of leaving aspects to only our imagination, we get a personal taste of the well-meaning but off-base politician, just as much as we can latch onto the aggravation of the professor and student, or the camaraderie of the soldiers. They are there for us to become invested in, and in turn, fight off our own removal from what's going on. Ultimately, the film asks us which we will be -- the lion or the lamb, and leaves it up to us to decide.
This is a film about talking and words, so naturally, the special features included on this disc reflect that. There is a commentary by director and star Robert Redford. In it, he gives an in-depth discussion of his thoughts on the character's motivations, and what he was trying to achieve as a filmmaker. Some of it is too much information -- better left to personal analysis, but it is interesting to see how he fleshed out the original story -- for example, adding extra tent scenes to give emphasis to the soldiers' plight on the mountain.
After that, there are two featurettes. The first is the 20-minute-long "The Making of Lions for Lambs." It is the usual dip into the film's making -- what the cast and crew thought, and how it came together on-screen. Beyond that, there is a "Script to Screen" featurette that has Matthew Michael Carnahan discussing how he wrote the film, meeting with Redford, and getting the script on the screen.
There are as well, of course, a collection of trailers for the film and others, plus a "United Artists Legacy" special feature. After a brief run-down about how the company came to be so many years ago, it runs through brief clips of many of the historical, award-winning, and famous films within the UA roster.
All in all, this is a film for those who love the voyeuristic peek into private discussions, the passion of opinion, and a film that will offer you a plate full of things to think about, and the DVD certainly helps serve it.