Sunday, November 18, 2007


RUNTIME: 88 min
RATING: *1/2

You know what was more exciting and entertaining than sitting through this ultra-bore talkathon? Staring at the poster of this film for 88 minutes. The topics debated here, with all the fake fierceness that can be mustered, are moot points in the way that everyone knows the right side. In fact, the film isn’t even a debate; it is just a recital of political and moral correctness. I guess the film aspires to be a debate, and if that is the case it could not have failed more miserably. The film simply and conveniently takes a stand that can hardly ever be debated and then harps over it in circles with “debate-clinching” points a 12-year old would be embarrassed of. I just realized what would be even more entertaining – Lions for Lambs distributing pamphlets about the issues it deals with and us distributing ones that preach to everyone not to visit this film, and see who can out-distribute whom. That’ll be one hell of a game, that one.
Lions for Lambs handles three storylines, mustering all the dexterity of a film school student who has just discovered that a movie could follow multiple storylines, and goes about cutting back and forth these stories tiresomely. There’s Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) who has invited journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) to disclose his new strategy for the situation in Afghanistan that involves capturing the high ground of the mountains so that when the snow disappears, the soldiers could turkey-shoot in all directions. I guess Irving’s brilliant and novel strategy assumes that the unassuming Taliban fighters will come outside, preferably in the day and for convenience’s sake on a roll-call. I’m still not able to make up my mind if this plan was made dumb for sarcastic reasons. Anyways the meeting between the senator and the journalist, the movie tirelessly intends to show, brings together the two parties that together sold the war. And there start the unending ramblings about the politician’s side of things. Then there’s that typical discussion between the aimlessly meandering bright kid, who if is the supposed future for any country makes it a good time to start praying unendingly to God to shower his blessings, and that typical torch-bearing teacher who has taken the onus on himself to shepherd the country’s youth. The discussion, and there are no prizes for guessing, consists essentially of ramblings, again, about how to get hold of your future of you’re bright and serve it to the nation. Then of course, there’s the obligatory war in Afghanistan where two soldiers, executing the senator’s brilliant strategy, are trapped on top of a point with the enemy closing in.
The movie unimaginatively and without any reason keeps cutting back and forth between the various stories. Aha, there’s what I call the punchy-one-liner syndrome too, which is the cornerstone of a bad multiple-storyline film. The syndrome is defined as the endless wait for that stupid punchy one-line masquerading as a debate-clinching idea for the edit to the parallel storyline. This syndrome, my research suggests, has been passed from those unending soap operas which use it to lethal effect. I have a couple of suggestions for screenwriter Carnahan, whose other scripted film The Kingdom I’ve yet to see. And both these suggestions can only help at the structural level, sorry nothing can help those god-awful ramblings. I wonder if he wanted to show a cause-and-effect; he could have first cut down on the stupefying bore that the Cruise-Streep conversation is and rather shown him planning his famed strategy. That would have taken out one punchy one-liner where Cruise tells Streep that the plan is already underway. He could have first shown the strategy being planned and the student-teacher conversation in tandem; then he could’ve gone about showing Streep’s character showing some resourcefulness as the actual battle ensues. It would have helped two-fold – 1. The media wouldn’t have come out as a wuss 2. The constant and needless interruption that takes all the steam away from the battle would be weeded out. I’ve some more suggestion but then that would only come out when I see a nice little cheque.
The political debates and discussions though are nothing but exercises in good old-fashioned cheesy talk. They are as banal and pointless as discussing the pros and cons of science – a debate about which everybody knows forwards and backwards and all the film does is summarize it for us in the most boring and unimaginative way possible, by reciting it to us. It might as well have been a radio play which we could have heard for free, doing away with our own little chores. It doesn’t stir up any new topics, at least nothing that voters come next year wouldn’t be aware of. I was watching the Democratic debate in Nevada the other day. Of course, I was watching because I have always found the sight of Senator Hillary Clinton pleasing to the eyes and I wish for her just as I wished Ségolène Royal was the French President. Anyways, the only hot button issue, obviously, was the war in Iraq and more importantly the growing mumbling over Iran. So that negates whatever endless harping Lions for Lambs is guilty of.
Plus, there’s no humor or imagination too. Raise the same issues but if the process was entertaining, we wouldn’t have complained. Remember Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog? Now that was pure brilliance. That was creativity. That was satire. That was intellectual. That was criticism. That was entertainment. Time to move on to the next paragraph. Guess the syndrome is affecting me too, a wee bit.
I guess the stars are there to take our attention off from the boring dialogues. I constantly found my attention deviating from the film and towards the performances. It was never Janine Roth, it was always Meryl Streep. Nothing to take away from Streep though. She can even make watching paint dry seem entertaining. She isn’t the greatest actress in my book for nothing. Redford has always exuded charm; I can watch him find new and stylish ways to blabber. He is a good director too, and this isn’t such a failure of his filmmaking abilities as much as it is of the script. Tom Cruise manages to give a commendable performance, and they’re never the issue in the first place. They try their best; it is just the matter that isn’t worth their abilities. Cruise’s character keeps saying Victory at all costs. I wonder how good a film about nuking Afghanistan would turn out, Dr. Strangelove style, where a politician for a change takes the place of Gen. Jack Ripper. There you go, a nice little idea for a nice little political film with nice little comedy. Now, where’s my cheque?
To tell you the truth Bob, and I call you Bob not with the contempt-generating familiarity but with the unabashed love with which I have known you through your cool characters, the war has long passed the stage where you could just debate it with respect to one nation. I’m not debating the war; I’ll be the last person qualified for that. But I’m intelligent enough to understand that the war has started affecting a hell of a lot of other nations, directly and indirectly. I guess there is a moral obligation, if nothing else, to show the faces of those Taliban fighters. To make a film just about the cause and effect on your end is extremely selfish, and in a way a showcase of an attitude that indeed causes these conflicts, for good or for worse. Meanwhile do you want to truly know what would have been more entertaining and enlightening? V for Vendetta, the best film of last year criminally ignored at the awards, and one of the best offerings of cinema this decade, if not the best. A film with a breathtakingly crazy confluence of innumerable ideas. And yeah, with a dash of humor too.

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