Lions for Lambs – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

“And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

— Macbeth’s soliloquy, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

William Falkner cribbed that line from Shakespeare for his immortal work, “The Sound and the Fury,” and it seems to fit Lions for Lambs perfectly. For all the good that came from 2007 cinematically, it ended on quite a down note with a parade of meandering bad “political” thrillers masquerading as informed pieces about current events.

Whereas the Vietnam War needed 10 years for Hollywood to make protest films, the war in Iraq has inspired Hollywood to make films about the conflict right now. It’s a telling statement about Hollywood that 30 years after a string of films about Vietnam which are still held in high regard today (The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Apocalypse Now, et al.) couldn’t be made today. Instead we’re given schlocky pieces that have all the subtlety of a kick to the groin. Lions for Lambs could’ve been the film that escaped the commercial failures that nearly every other political film in the last several years has had. The film has an intriguing premise with relevance to today’s events as well as a dynamite cast.

A young Senator (Tom Cruise) is pitching his idea to a veteran reporter (Meryl Streep) about how to win the Global War on Terror. A distinguished college Professor (Robert Redford) is lecturing a lackadaisical student (Andrew Garfield) about the necessity for action. Meanwhile two soldiers (Derek Luke and Michael Pena) are in the middle of an attack in the slopes of Afghanistan. Taking place as they all go through a specific moment in time, it was supposed to be Tom Cruise’s vehicle to return to the dramatic star he made his career on and another feather in the cap of the legendary Robert Redford.

With low expectations in terms of box office appeal, the film was an unmitigated disaster as it made only $15 million domestically and $42 million internationally on a $35 million budget. It was the first film in the revamped United Artists studio, which was supposed to be its big opening act for a successful opening. So with one of Hollywood’s few actual movie stars in Cruise, two bona fide legends in Streep and Redford and several rising stars in the cast list, as well as a topic that’s in the headlines every day, the question to ask is how the film failed so spectacularly.

It’s certainly not in the cinematography or the editing, that’s for sure. Redford the director has always put together a top notch film in terms of how it looks and it feels. There’s nothing excessive in its story-telling and the film is focused like a laser for its short running time. The film has three main plots that drive the film and Redford knows exactly the story he wants to tell. It’s a well-executed story, for sure, and it sure looks pretty. But underneath all that sound and fury Redford doesn’t say anything significant beyond “get involved” and “care about what’s happening” on any meaningful level.

The film’s script is long on speech-making and points about one of the more volatile times in recent American history than it is on actually telling a story about three radically different situations that are all interconnected. This is a film based off of making big, bombastic points from its characters than anything else. Everything is set up for a big point and good discussion, which writer Carnahan and director Redford give the better argument and last word to the characters they ultimately believe in.

There were many reasons Lions for Lambs, Redacted, In the Valley of Elah, Rendition and a host of political thrillers released during awards season of 2007 were failures. Lions for Lambs fails in telling its story with any sort of heart and gumption, despite its technically excellence.

The DVD has a flawless audio and visual component. Using the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and a widescreen format, the film is a marvel to watch. It uses the entire system and spreads out the sound wonderfully, and the visual component is terrific. This isn’t a film of visuals, but there are clear and defined colors that come through marvelously.

The Making of Lions for Lambs focuses on the film’s production and everything behind it as well as Redford’s focus in making the film. It’s interesting to hear everyone discuss the film, as everyone is very much focused on the subject and how Redford did try to make everything as equal as possible. Redford is engaging as well, considering his role as director and star of the film. There wasn’t a lot of time to get the film together, apparently, as many of the people on Lions for Lambs worked on it because they knew Redford or had worked with him previously.

Script to Screen covers a lot of the same points that the making of featurette covers, focusing mainly on how Carnahan was inspired to write the film and the research he did.

UA Legacy is a look back at the beginnings of the original United Artists. It’s quick snapshots of the more higher profile films of the UA library. It’s interesting to see the diverse films that comprise its legacy and runs about seven minutes.

The film’s Teaser Trailer and Theatrical Trailer are included as well as trailers for Pathology, Death at a Funeral, Feast of Love, The Darjeeling Limited and FX: There is no box (a commercial for FX programming).

One of the most spectacular failures of 2007 has come to DVD midway through a Presidential Election cycle and much like most of the debates on either side were, it offers nothing really of note in terms of its content or its extras.

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United Artists presents Lions for Lambs. Directed by Robert Redford. Starring Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep. Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan. Running time: 88 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: April 8th, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.

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