Lions for Lambs vs. Redacted


“Redacted” Cast:
Patrick Carroll as Reno Flake
Rob Devaney as Lawyer McCoy
Izzy Diaz as Angel Salazar
Mike Figueroa as Sgt. Vazques
Ty Jones as Msgt. Jim Sweet
Paul O’Brien as Barton’s Father
Kel O’Neill as Gabe Blix
Daniel Stewart Sherman as Specialist B.B. Rush

Directed by Brian de Palma

“Lions for Lambs” Cast
Robert Redford as Professor Stephen Malley
Meryl Streep as Janine Roth
Tom Cruise as Senator Jasper Irving
Michael Peña as Ernest Rodriguez
Andrew Garfield as Todd Hayes
Peter Berg as Lt. Col. Falco
Kevin Dunn as ANX Editor
Derek Luke as Arian Finch

Directed by Robert Redford

Brian de Palma’s “Redacted” is an interesting though sometimes infuriating exercise from the veteran director that (as usual) goes just that little bit too far. “Lions for Lambs” takes a more direct approach to its politics but should have gone just a bit further if it really wanted to leave any sort of lasting impression.

For those who can’t get enough about Iraq and the U.S. war on terror from CNN, CNBC, CSPAN, FOX and all of the Sunday morning political shows, here’s two different perspectives on war, one from a director prone to sensationalism and the other from a trio of A-list stars who are far less subtle with their political views. It’s somewhat unfair to lump the two movies together just because they use America’s “war on terror” as a backdrop, but the fact that neither of these movies would ever have happened without the advent of 9/11 and the government decisions that followed is fairly obvious.

In both cases, they deal with how war affects people, particularly soldiers in the field, whether it’s the two ambitious political science students who enlist in “Lions for Lambs,” Robert Redford’s first movie as a director in seven years, to a group of soldiers stationed in Iraq who finally crack after seeing the gruesome death of their sergeant in an insurgent bombing in Brian de Palma’s “Redacted.”

The latter might be seen as a departure from De Palma’s string of superficial thrillers, particularly in the original way he chooses to tell the tale, using a variety of medium from the handheld digital video journals we’ve seen used in recent war docs edited into scenes from a clinical French-made film about an Iraqi checkpoint and video footage found on websites and taken from military security cameras. Through this intriguing collage of media, we watch as two soldiers that probably should have had a more thorough background search before being admitted to the army—an argument for another review–decide to get revenge for the murder of their commanding officer by staging a home invasion, raping a teen girl and killing her entire family, an incident that causes a stir in the local press and among their fellow soldiers who feel they’ve gone too far.

In “Lions for Lambs,’ Redford turns an excellent script by Matthew Michael Carnahan (“The Kingdom”) into a film that’s paced like a stageplay which focuses on three stories, each of them showing the interaction between two characters. The most straightforward of these is an hour-long interview between a charming Republican senator with higher aspirations (Cruise) and a liberal journalist (Streep) whom he’s granted an audience to reveal his new masterplan for Afghanistan. The second segment involves a political science professor (Redford) and a chronically tardy student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield) who he hopes to talk some sense into by telling the story of two previous over-achievers. Having answered the call of the government’s war on terror, those two students have become trapped behind enemy lines during a botched operation. It’s an intellectual film for sure, but unlike “Crash” or “Rendition,” it doesn’t take a quantum physicist to successfully assemble the three segments into proper chronological order.

In “Redacted,” De Palma follows Paul Greengrass’ “United 93” M.O. by using unknown actors in order to try to create the illusion of realism, but the attempt sometimes falters because the dialogue isn’t strong—mostly consisting of sexist machismo and racist slurs—and the limited capabilities of his inexperienced cast doesn’t help make the movie seem scripted and acted, which greatly takes away from the illusion that the movie consists of real found footage of the incident being depicted. The most credible performance comes from Rob Devaney as Lawyer McCoy, an older family man who’s torn about informing on the clearly illegal actions of his fellow soldiers.

Those who don’t appreciate a lot of political babble will probably get bored quickly with “Lions'” slow talky pace, although watching actors on a par with Cruise and Streep going head-to-head drives their portion of the movie and one has can be equally impressed with Garfield’s ability to keep up with the far more experienced Redford in their scenes. Cruise’s Senator Jasper Irving is the type of charming always smiling snake-in-the-grass politician on the rise we’ve seen so many times, a role for Cruise on par with his T. J. Mackey in P.T. Anderson’s “Magnolia” that allows us to question his motives and whether we should believe him. Veteran journalist Janine Roth isn’t nearly as much of a stretch for Streep, but she’s still captivating whether countering the senator’s charming wit or trying to stand up to her editor by not accepting the senator’s propaganda as the news he claims. The scenes between Michael Peña and Derek Luke, both strong actors, might remind some too much of Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” where Peña was caught in a similar situation, but compared to the rest of the movie, the scenes in Afghanistan are the only ones that can be deemed even remotely exciting.

Your feelings about “Lions” might come down to your own thoughts and beliefs about the war. So much of the country seems to be on the same wavelength now, and it rehashes a lot of ideas that have already been expressed far more effectively elsewhere, so at the very least, it’s merely preaching to the converted. It’ll be no surprise that De Palma’s movie rarely minces its words or softens the shocking violence of war, though some might be angered that “Redacted” paints soldiers (and not just the rogue ones) in such a bad light, and that the movie seems to not just be an indictment on war but on the United States itself. Whether that was intended, having soldiers as bad guys in this day and age just doesn’t send a very good message to the viewer. In its attempt to sit on the fence, “Lions” tries too hard to show both sides of the arguments, and being vague tends to be its own undoing despite a strong script and great performances. Honestly, unless you’re someone who likes spends hours arguing politics online or watching political news shows, many of the debates in the film will make you glaze over.

It’s nearly impossibly to review “Redacted” without mentioning a series of pictures that used to follow the film but have since been removed by a nervous distributor in a move of sheer irony. The first picture was a charred and presumably raped Iraqi girl that inspired the film’s plot, followed by similar casualties of the war. Like Von Trier’s “Dogville,” these pictures are meant to anger the viewer even more, and they were very effective, to the point where the film might lose something without them.

The Bottom Line:
Both movies are good, neither is great, and a lot of it comes down to the blatant political rhetoric that drives the movies that might annoy and even infuriate those who have their own specific views on the war and don’t feel that it’s the position of filmmakers or actors to tell us how to think or feel. With that in mind, it’s hard to justify either of these movies when there are so many excellent war docs like “The Ground Truth” and “The War Tapes” showing the effects of the war in Iraq. Do we really need movies like “Redacted” or “Lions for Lambs” to inform us of what is going on in the Middle East? Maybe not, but those looking for more ammo on their road to political enlightenment might find a few ideas in these two movies worth nicking. Either way, neither movie is a good way to spend a couple hours escaping the real world if that’s what you’re looking for.

Lions for Lambs opens nationwide on Friday, November 9, while Redacted opens in select cities on November 16.