Lions for Lambs (2007)

Rated R. Our ratings: V- 4; L-2; S/N-0 . Running time: 1 hour 30 min.

Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10:37b

Two idealistic students volunteer oin the Army and volunteer to go to Afghanistan.
(c) 2007 MGM/United Artists

I suspect that this well-intentioned film, directed by Robert Redford, would work better as a stage play than a film, its scenes being so filled with talk. Nonetheless it is a film that church folk should see because it affords a good opportunity to talk about the issues behind today’s headlines—issues about the clash with Islamic fundamentalism, our past and current responses to it, the political apathy of so many Americans, and the call to become involved. Because of the latter two this film probably will not do well at the box office, so you had best see it as soon as possible.

The film cuts back and forth between three stories, unfolding at the same time Senator with presidential aspirations granting a long interview with an ace television journalist; a charismatic college professor trying to light a fire under an a promising but apathetic student; and two of that professor’s students now in the Special Forces unit of the Army, isolated and under Taliban fire on a mountaintop in Afghanistan. Thus the action moves back and forth from Washington to an un-named university in California to Asia.

Tom Cruise is Sen. Jasper Irving, smoothly and sincerely trying to convince skeptical journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) that his new plan of seizing the high points in Afghanistan with small units of soldiers is the key to winning the war against terrorism, if only the public will bear with the government a little longer. Roth is impressed with his passion and sincerity, but later when she reflects upon his arguments, her forty year experience of reporting brings up the argument of the generals who argued that we could win the Vietnam War with a new plan, basically the same one put forth by the Senator.

In the professor’s study Dr. Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) tries to find out why his brightest student Todd (Andrew Garfield) has stopped participating in his political science course, especially when that is his major. As they debate back and forth, we see flashbacks in the teacher’s mind of two star pupils whom he had inspired to want to “make a difference in the world,” but who had made a decision that he had opposed. Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Pena) and Arian Finch (Derek Luke) were concerned about the danger of the Taliban in Afghanistan, so they joined the Army’s Special Forces unit to fight directly against the enemy. Dr. Malley tries to talk them out of their enlistment, but to no avail—and thus the two find themselves fighting for their lives on cold mountaintop against an enemy that would like to either capture or kill them.

For Reflection/Discussion

Contains spoilers .

1) What impresses you most about Senator Irving’s attempt to win over the journalist to support his “new plan” ? His sincerity, or the arguments themselves? How important is it to “win the hearts of the people” in those countries in which we intervene? Why do you think that the Senator (or script writer Matthew Michael Carnahan) deals more with Afghanistan than Iraq?

2) What is it that bothers Janine Roth about the exclusive interview she has been given? How has the government used the press in the past—in Vietnam; in Iraq? Can you recall any reporter or media outlook that called into question the second invasion of Iraq in the beginning?

3) What do you think of Dr. Malley and Todd’s debate? What is it about politics that contributes to the cynical feeling among many people and their turning away from any involvement? How is the professor’s role similar to that of Jesus’ in the incident of the lawyer and the story of the Good Samaritan?

4) How does Ernest and Arian’s decision show that sometimes our efforts bring about unintended results? What incidents have you experienced in which your children or others whom you advised made a decision you opposed? What did you (or could you) do about it? Support them in love and stand by if matters turn out as badly as you fear? If you have seen any of the WW 2 films that Hollywood churned out in the early 1940s, how is the hero’s desire to “fight the Japs” (or Germans) similar to what the two students did? Even if he doesn’t agree with their decision, do you think that Dr. Malley prefers that over Todd’s apathy? What signs do you see that youth and young adults are becoming more concerned with issues outside their personal lives? How has the church been encouraging this? (Such as through service projects, the Katrina response being one example?)

5) What do you think of the title of the film, drawn from a German officer’s comment during World war I. He had expressed his admiration for the bravery of the British soldiers in the trenches, but was contemptuous of the incredible stupidity of their generals whose 19th century view of warfare led to their ordering of their men to make suicidal frontal attacks against machine gun-equipped emplacements, thus trading “lions for lambs.” 6) For some the film ends abruptly, with many matters unresolved, at least in two of the vignettes, how does this make us, the audience, work harder? How do you think each of the stories might end? Especially how do you think Janine Roth’s decision will affect her career, and her growth as a person?