Hardly a ‘Lamb’

Maggie Nepomuceno

What do you stand for? That’s what the filmmakers hope viewers will ask themselves in the new movie “Lions for Lambs.”

In an interview with The Villanovan, director and actor Robert Redford and co-stars Andrew Garfield and Michael Peña discussed the new political piece opening in theaters tomorrow.

The film alternates between three story lines.

In one story, Redford plays Dr. Stephen Malley, a professor who attempts to motivate his intelligent, yet apathetic, student Todd (Garfield) into using his brains for a greater purpose than playing video games. In another story (and probably the most compelling), Meryl Streep plays Janine Roth, a veteran journalist who lands an exclusive interview with high-rising Republican Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise). Irving, whose eyes are set on the White House, eagerly reveals his plan to send a small team of soldiers into the mountains of Afghanistan to stop insurgents.

Though Roth voices her objections, he returns her criticisms by accusing the media of lackluster coverage of the war.

The third storyline centers on two of the soldiers involved in Irving’s plan of action, Arian (Derek Luke) and Ernest (Peña), who are in a helicopter crash that traps them on a mountain surrounded by enemy forces.

“Lions” doesn’t raise any questions we haven’t heard before, but for the audience members that haven’t been paying attention – detouring around news channels to watch mindless reality television – the film may prove to be truly thought-provoking. It reminds us that if you don’t stand for something, you might fall for anything.

The title “Lions for Lambs” derives from a remark made by a German officer in World War I about the bravery of the British soldiers and the idiocy of their leaders: “Never have I seen such lions led by such lambs.” It’s clearly a jab at the current White House administration, but Redford, legendary for his left-wing politics, promises that the film is not anti-war propaganda.

“What it does, I hope, is present all points of view in a way that makes you think about it,” he said. “I try to avoid sending messages in film. That can be dangerous. I’m more interested in provoking thought.”

The film is also not meant to give us answers.

“I think it would be presumptuous to offer answers to such a gray situation,” Garfield said. “It’s not black and white. As young people getting to the truth of the situations America faces around the world like Afghanistan, like Iraq, we don’t know how the armies are operating out there. We’re not entirely sure. We’re given a diluted kind of version.”

Part of that diluted version, as the film suggests, is the manipulation of the media.

Redford, who demonstrated the power of investigative journalism in his 1972 film “All the President’s Men,” criticizes the wayward direction that journalism has fallen into in succumbing to the corporate world.

However, he is still hopeful for the future.

“I still value the role that journalists can play,” Redford said. “I think it’s so hard for young people to get the truth. I still get some optimism that maybe with young people today, particularly if they go into journalism, they would start with the word ‘integrity’ and say let’s start there. We have a certain integrity. We’re going to demand the truth.”

Redford was particularly interested in the reactions of younger viewers, whom he sees as the catalyst for change in the future.

“One thing’s for sure that I do feel very strongly about: Do something,” he said. “The meter’s ticking, and time is running out. Somebody’s got to do something. And I would think the best person to do it would be a younger person whose future can still be shaped.”

Redford lauds independent films such as “Lions” for their ability to criticize and use art freely.

“Independent film can take risks, can take chances, because it’s lower budget, independently financed,” Redford said. “You can afford to not be afraid. [Mainstream movies] were afraid to speak out because the fear card had been played by the administration. If you’re not for us, you’re against us. If you’re against us, you’re unpatriotic. You’re not American, which is a very offensive thing to do particularly when you find out later they were lying.”

Though the film seems to be critical of the war, it is careful not to denounce the soldiers fighting overseas.

“I was definitely aware of the other people to make sure I didn’t insult anybody because it is an honor to do something like that,” Peña said. “There’s going to be dads and moms that are going to be watching this. I don’t want them to be insulted by the way that I pretend to be like their kid.”

So what does the film ultimately hope to incite in movie-goers?

“To pay attention,” Garfield said. “To access information in a more active way, ’cause otherwise we’re not going to get access to it because it’s not there on a plate for us. We have to search for the truth in situations more. I’d like people to walk away with just a little seed planted so that when they see a story in the news, they question it.”

And to the young people who are asking themselves why they should waste their good energies with something so diseased and corrupt?

Redford has one argument: “Precisely because it is. You can make it better if you step into it. It’s your choice.”

The film opens tomorrow.