In his first turn in the director's chair since the political minefield of The Legend of Bagger Vance(?!?!), Robert Redford joins the well-intentioned, liberal baby-boomer chorus with his uniquely astute reaction to the War on Terror, Lions for Lambs.
Along with screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan, Redford leads his all-star cast through what basically amounts to a diluted Syriana: a Stephen Gaghan-styled "issues" movie complete with multiple, simultaneous, interlocked, and globe-trotting storylines. In this case we find a disaffected TV news reporter (Meryl Streep) facing an ambitious Republican senator (played by a believably smarmy Tom Cruise, shining once again in another stretch-less asshole role) with yet another short-sighted military strategy; a college professor (Redford) trying to inspire a lazy, privileged student; and two martyred minorities (Michael Peña and Derek Luke) fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan—and all, of course, are loosely married to one another by decision or circumstance.
Where Redford's more populist approach strays most from the Gaghan school is in his choice to lean more heavily on sentiment than statistics to drive his point home—with predictably mixed results. Lions for Lambs rings with considerably more humanity than Gaghan's somewhat academic exercises, but its moralist simplicities also threaten to derail the whole enterprise—propping in one-dimensional characters in place of vast swatches of the American population (the disaffected college student, the noble poor, the self-interested media, etc.), and then selling them to us with "heart." What's perhaps most paradoxical is that—in spite of the fact that there are roughly a half-dozen less storylines to follow—Redford manages scarcely more character development than Syriana, save perhaps for the questionable caricatures of the two saintly servicemen—a move that does more than any other to trip up his vision.
At the very least, Redford one-ups the typical "we are irredeemably fucked" sentiment of similar political exercises by attempting to provide a few solutions—though I'm not entirely convinced that his seemingly pro-draft rhetoric is any better an answer. Still, if you simply can't get enough of Hollywood's cramped meditations on the current conflict, you could do a hell of a lot worse.