Rodney Dangerfield had an old joke about going to a fight and seeing a hockey game break out. Watching Lions for Lambs is a little like that—you go to the multiplex and wind up watching a debate. As characters sound off for and against American military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, this all-talk, little-action drama becomes a civics lesson masquerading as a movie. The point? Director Redford clearly is pleading with the nation's youth—not to mention the rest of us—to get involved and take a stand.
Three story threads that eventually intersect are used to make the case: An ambitious Republican senator (Cruise) in Washington, D.C., feeds a skeptical reporter (Streep) a scoop about a risky new military strategy about to be undertaken in Afghanistan; a college professor (Redford) in California tries to persuade a cynical student (newcomer Andrew Garfield) to shake off his lethargy; and two U.S. soldiers (Derek Luke and Michael Peña) in Afghanistan head out on a dangerous and possibly suicidal mission as part of the new strategy.
The scenes between Cruise and Streep, both giving savvy performances, strike the liveliest sparks and feature the sharpest exchanges. But it's still yak, yak, yak. All that's missing is Tim Russert of TV's Meet the Press serving as moderator.