A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this political drama/thriller is too intense for tweens and younger teens. A frank (and somewhat didactic) examination of the cost of war both at home and on the battlefield, its arguments are both complicated and hard to digest. Plus, there's a fair amount of war violence -- including some realistic battle scenes and a nasty wound shown up close -- and some strong violence. But it's not gratuitously bloody, and most of the content is age-appropriate for older high schoolers, who might find plenty to think about based on the discussions between the professor and his student.
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What's the story?
Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and directed by Robert Redford, LIONS FOR LAMBS follows three intertwined storylines that all happen simultaneously. In the first, political science professor Stephen Malley (Redford) attempts to resuscitate social activism in Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield), a student who once displayed promise. But Todd is now jaded, nearly convinced that making money is more important than making his country better. Meanwhile, two of Malley's former students, Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Pena) and Arian Finch (Derek Luke), fight for their lives while stranded in the mountains of Afghanistan, where they're part of a covert military operation. And back in Washington, hawkish, ambitious Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) tries to sell a new-but-dangerous strategy to a cynical reporter, Janine Roth (Meryl Streep).
Is it any good?
Watching Lions for Lambs feels a lot like taking your medicine: It may be good for you, but it doesn't go down smoothly. In this case, the ailment is the malaise that sets in when a country -- here, the United States -- sends its young men and women to fight a war that goes on indefinitely. The storylines seem like the recipe for a thoughtful, provoking piece of cinema. Which it is, on some levels. The push-pull dynamic between the journalist and the senator is fascinating and, it seems, fairly on the money. But Lions for Lambs is also didactic and dogmatic. Viewers are often told what to think instead of being given the chance to discover the truths the movie aims to convey. Actually, it all feels a lot like a poli-sci lecture, albeit one with great actors.
Cruise is brilliant here, subduing his usual manic tendencies and exhibiting an almost menacing penchant for control that serves his character very well. He goes toe to toe with Streep, who's superb as usual. Of the movie's three sections, Redford's storyline suffers most from inertia. Yes, he holds the camera's gaze, but the conversation between him and his "student" feels curiously dispassionate -- ironic, considering that he's trying to light a fire under the kid. And while it's certainly moving, the soldiers' section is predictable. Too bad you can't say the same thing about resolving war and other conflicts.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the statement the movie is making about war. What messages does it send about the toll that war exacts on both soldiers and those at home? Do politicians consider the personal cost of war? What is the role of diplomacy? And what is society's responsibility in regards to the country's political and social problems? Families can also discuss why war is a theme in so many movies. What about it both fascinates and horrifies us? Can movies (and other media) help make sense of war? Why or why not?