It took me a while to figure out just how bad "Lions for Lambs" was.
There was never any question it was bad. Approximately 80 of its 90 minutes are pissed away by people sitting across from each other talking urgently about the need to do something about politics in America. It's almost like an anti-movie, or maybe just a very bad play: senator Tom Cruise tells reporter Meryl Streep about his new plan for victory on the war on terror, professor Robert Redford argues with student Andrew Garfield about the need to wake up and take action, and meanwhile, Redford's former students, Michael Pena and Derek Luke, soldiers in Afghanistan, get shot down in enemy territory and await rescue.
I feel like I should put a spoiler warning in here, because with the exception of about five minutes of wrap-up, that is the entire plot. This takes place basically in real time, too. You can tell because the characters are always glancing at the clocks to see how much time they have left, which was weird, because I was doing the exact same thing.
So...what? Two conversations cross-cut with a couple soldiers writhing around in the snow, is that even a movie? Isn't that more like the first 15 minutes of a movie, where you set up the initial conflicts and then let them play out as the characters make decisions and try to put their ideas into action? So that there's--what's the word--drama?
In what sense can what is essentially a sermon rehashing played-out political arguments until the credits roll be said to be a story? More importantly, what manner of madness led writer Matthew Michael Carnahan to believe that, aside from an occasional line of decent dialogue or spark of life from Redford and Streep, there is anything here that could pass for art or entertainment?
The answer, as it turns out, is the kind of madness where Carnahan cares so much about what he's saying that he loses all grasp on subtlety and may as well be raving straight into the camera himself. The movie's utter dullness was clarified for me later that day when I watched "Hellraiser 2," a nonsensical, brain-dead cash-in sequel, and had more fun trying to figure out what in Sam Hill was going on with Pinhead and the skinless bodies than I did watching "Lions for Lambs'" tepid stereotypes jabbering at each other for the complete duration of the universe. Incidentally, I'm afraid I don't know whether that's 6,000 years or 18 billion, because about an hour in I died of Fun Scurvy, which is like regular scurvy, except with no fun instead of vitamin C. I even lost several teeth when I fell asleep and donked my face into the seat in front of me.
On the off chance anyone could misunderstand the movie's points when they're continually spoken aloud, Redford's direction helpfully lingers on thematically relevant newspaper clippings, quotes, and images of soldiers' cemeteries. It's an impressive display of having no faith the audience has the brain to remember things from earlier in the movie or understand human language. It's also impressive that a movie so angry about how the troops are being exploited has the balls to go and exploit them for its cause instead.
It's one thing to make a movie so artlessly, nakedly political that even when you agree with what it's saying you find it tedious and stilted to the point of embarrassment. When it also has no plot or action whatsoever, the list of things that would be more fun than watching "Lions for Lambs" would be the list of everything that has ever or will ever happen, and that includes being beaten to death with a shovel, or saying "Boring" until you die of dehydration.
Near the long-awaited ending, Streep's boss asks if she's letting her politics cloud her reasoning. It's hard to believe no one ever asked Carnahan if his politics were preventing him from writing something remotely watchable.