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'Lions for Lambs' Dramatizes US Policy, War in Afghanistan

Robert Redford's new political drama "Lions for Lambs" is a minute examination of the U.S. war in Afghanistan and America's commitment to the war on terror. The story is told as a three-part, set piece and zeroes in on the morals and convictions of a handful of disparate Americans. VOA's Penelope Poulou has more.

In his prestigious office in Washington D.C., Republican Senator Jasper Irving unveils the government's new offensive in Afghanistan to reporter Janine Roth as an essential step in the war on terror.

"This strategy has patience and determination at its core," maintians the on-screen senator. "It ensures that it puts our fighting men in spots where they can face, fight and kill the enemy so that we can then go about rebuilding that country. And if it takes 10 years that's how long we stay. We do whatever it takes."

The middle aged reporter looks at him and then repeats to herself, "Whatever it takes."

Meanwhile, at a university in California, a political science professor, Stephen Malley, is trying to convince his smart but unmotivated student Todd Hayes to take a stand in life, because, the professor says, inaction and complacency is the surest way to kill democracy.

But his cocky student does not get easily convinced. He looks up at his professor and he defiantly says: "You think it's better to try and fail than failing to try, right?" "At least you did something," replies the professor.

These two movie dialogues represent two antithetical political viewpoints: the pro-war rational as it is presented by neo-conservative presidential hopeful Jasper Irving and the antiwar sentiment as it is expressed by the college professor.

In the middle of these two positions stand two young men, the professor's former students, who decide to make a difference by fighting for their country. But the irony the film presents is that these two young "lions" are led to a perilous combat by incompetent "lambs," by army captains, who rally their soldiers against the enemy but do not have a clear plan of action.

Although the film projects the quandary of current events in the Middle East, its real focus is not on the war itself, but on the war of ideas among people who have totally different perspectives of a better world.

Academy Award winning actor and filmmaker Robert Redford directed the movie. "It would be very easy to take this film and put a nice ribbon around it and say, "this is what we think you should think," he says. "This is what our answer is to the problem.' No. Here's how on a personal basis these stories develop hopefully dramatically to a point where it comes right back at you. What do you do? How do you feel about it?"

Although slowly moving, the film has excellent dialogue and an impressive cast. Tom Cruise exudes passion,

intelligence and forcefulness as the young senator and presidential hopeful Jasper Irving.

Meryl Streep offers yet another tour de force performance as the perceptive but unassertive reporter who oscillates between catering to the senator on one hand, and writing a story that would question his plan on the other. Streep's role is also symbolic of the role that media has played since the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 as it appears in a film dialogue between the reporter and her editor:

Editor: "This is your guy, right?"

Roth: "He's not my guy."

Editor: "He goes right to you. He asked you the questions he's handing you an exclusive."

Roth: "It's propaganda. And we don't have to broadcast everything that government wants us to, do we?"

Editor: "No, broadcast the news. The launch of a new military move is news."

This is a static film, not much action. It could be considered preachy had it not been for the balance and the richness of arguments it offers. It is a thought-provoking movie and accurately reflects the climate in which we live -- the dilemmas we face.