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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Lions for Lambs: Won't get fooled again
Lions for Lambs is skeptical about the War on Terror
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Streep and Cruise offer an object lesson in government-media relations.
Streep and Cruise offer an object lesson in government-media relations.

"I wanted to express my own feelings about my country and where it is," Robert Redford has said about Lions for Lambs, which he produced, directed and stars in. And to his credit, those feelings are more complex than we might have expected from someone who clearly wanted to get something off his chest. Playing out in more or less real time, the movie presents three interrelated storylines having to do with our commitment to the War on Terror, and it's certainly didactic at times, like a college theme paper turned into an episode of West Wing. But the dialogue's sharp and incisive, and the acting's first-rate. And there's star charisma to burn, what with Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and, of course, Redford himself along for the ride.

In the strongest of the storylines, Cruise plays a gung-ho Republican senator who's come up with "A New Plan" for the War on Terror that could turn the whole thing around and, incidentally, vault him into the Oval Office. Streep is a veteran broadcast journalist who's doing a one-on-one with him, and their hourlong encounter is an object lesson in government-media relations, Cruise turning on the Top Gun charm, Streep managing to convey both weariness and combativeness. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, a political science professor (Redford) tries to talk a jaded student (Andrew Garfield) into getting up off his complacent ass and doing something. And on the other side of the world, two of his former students, now Special Forces newbies, are stranded on a mountain in Afghanistan, the first casualties of that new plan.

If you ask me, the three story strands hold together better than the ones in Babel did, but the transitions can be choppy, as if TV channels were being switched. And there hasn't been much of an attempt made to open up the movie. (Except for the embattled soldiers, everybody just kind of sits around talking.) But most of the scenes play quite well, with just enough of a clock-ticking deadline to add some tension. The movie's theme is about standing up and being counted, which Redford clearly has done here. But the more specific point he seems to be making is that we shouldn't take the next "plan," be it for Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan, lying down. Fool me once, Redford says, shame on you. Fool me twice....

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