Saturday, November 03, 2007

What went wrong with Lions for Lambs

Last night I went with Scribe and another Friend of ours to see a free screening of Robert Redford's new film, Lions for Lambs.

I adore Robert Redford. I've never supported the war in Iraq, even from the beginning, and I love war movies. Love them.

But this movie was a complete disaster from beginning to end.

You know how you have a character who needs to express his feelings but you can't have him talk to himself so you put him in a psychiatrist's office so he can still talk to himself but at least somebody else is there too so it's not so obvious that he's talking to himself? Know how that's bad? Well....

There are basically three stories in this film:

1) Two soldiers are stranded on a plateau in Iraq, stuck several feet from each other by injuries they sustained when they fell out of a helicopter. Now they talk and occasionally shoot at hazy targets in the distance as they wait for rescue, not moving the entire film.

2) Meryl Streep is a reporter who sits in an office with Tom Cruise the senator while he unfolds the new GOP plan, already begun, to make Vietnam-like offensive in Afghanistan, the offensive the afore-mentioned soldiers are a part of.

3) Robert Redford, the former political science professor of the afore-mentioned soldiers, sits in his office lecturing a lazy frat boy on why he should come to class more often.

We have three stories, all about the way the decision-makers talk a lot and don't do anything while the real heroes go off and die bravely because of the stupid decisions their leaders make. And yet 99% of the film is two people in various locations sitting around talking. It was pretty much one of the most boring movies ever.

The Korean film Tae Guk Gi was about the same thing, but that film wrenches your soul from your body, it's so amazingly sad and beautiful. The Australian film Gallipoli is about the same thing but leaves you so incredibly angry at the stupidity of the military leaders you want to throw things at the screen and scream. Both films succeed because the soldiers see what decisions people around them should be making and make actual sacrifices for other people while their leaders commit lazy, greedy, ignorant acts.

Lions for Lambs has chosen to replace all that heart-wrenching drama with a lot of boring CNNesque debate.

During the Q&A Michael Carnahan said he originally wrote this as a play and when he decided to make it a film script he "didn't want to change anything" because it pored out of him, outline free, and he wanted to keep to his original ideas in tact. He also said he loved the idea of these boring rooms where boring people sat and made major decisions about thousands of men they never see. So he put his boring characters in boring rooms where they talked about the decisions they'd already made. And nobody has any real backstory. Nobody. There's a scene at the end where the editing and music told me I was supposed to be crying but I really didn't see the need.

Basically, this film took a self-righteous hammer and slammed it into my skull for the longest 88 minutes of my life.

You may ask, well Miss Emily, what the hell would you have done that was so much better?

Glad you asked.

One of the many problems with this film is its lack of urgency. All the major decisions have already been made when the film opens so everybody's just kind of debating or reacting. We need some urgency. So here's what I'd do keeping the same basic format:

1) Two soldiers stranded on the plateau. One of them trapped, one of them injured but capable of movement. They know the Afghans are coming, so they make a plan to defend themselves that involves doing some incredibly risky and brave moves, especially on the part of the guy who can walk. But he's going to stay and help his friend when he could just run and hide. You could have the same outcome for the scene, but instead of empty dialogue over distance you could show the relationship between these guys through their actions.

2) Tom Cruise is in on a meeting with some major political players to decide what to do about the failed Afghan offensive. Do we abandon the soldiers? Do we go in even though the offensive didn't work? How do we spin this politically? While our boys are dying on a mountaintop, the political leaders in Washington are discussing economics and public relations and trying to make a decision we know will directly affect the soldiers. So instead of simply discussing an offensive that has already taken place, we'd be making a crucial military decision that will have an effect on the outcome of characters we know.

Meryl Streep can still be the reporter trying to get the story, but this time instead of being handed a story she doesn't like, she could be actively working to get the truth of what's going on in Afghanistan.

3) A cocky college boy's fraternity brother decides to join the military. Cocky college boy wants to talk his friend out of it. As we see this one boy making this decision, we see the outcome of that decision on the plateau in Afghanistan and the idiots making policy in Washington and cross our fingers that the boy will decide to finish his education instead of run off and die.

Lots of people will say this film is deep and important. These are the same people who lauded the emperor's clothes.


  1. You have been chosen for an inspiration meme! Resistance is futile; just do it, already. Complete details can be found here: http://greatboobsandtubes.

    (Sorry, Blogger sucks with long links so I had to separate it.)

    Have fun! :)

  2. Oh my. I'll get right on that.

  3.'re saying you liked the movie?

  4. I actually want to see your movie now!

  5. Oh, thank you, Leif!

    I wish I was a script doctor.

  6. WORD on the emperor's new clothes comment! Thanks for calling that out. I'm so sick of mediocre overhyped movies while true brilliance goes ignored.

    The best movie of the year by far is Rocket Science, and I only chanced upon it because ONE theater in the ENTIRE state I happened to be visiting at the time was playing it. For a whopping 4 days.

    Oh, that movie...when he gets his pizza....siiiigh. Let's hear more about the Rocket Sciences of the world!

  7. DOINK!

    You've been tagged


  8. Thanks for the heads-up on another movie I can save my ducats on...

  9. Oh rats! Brett tagged you first!

  10. Actually Rhys tagged me first. Everybody wants to tag me. I feel so loved. Or hated.

  11. I didn't check the comments above mine. I was scrambling to find some female bloggers to tag and was in far too much haste to waste time with trivial distractions like "paying attention" or 'thinking."


  12. I thought Lions for Lambs was brilliant. I truly think it's a deeply misunderstood film. Certainly better and more ambitious than most of the crapola produced in Hollywood.


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