Lions for Lambs is a 2007 American drama war film directed by Robert Redford and starring Redford, Tom Cruise, and Meryl Streep. It was the first Cruise/Wagner Productions film since the company joined with United Artists subsequent to Cruise having a falling out with Paramount in 2006.
The plot is about three interconnected stories: The first story is about Dr. Stephen Malley (Redford) attempts to reach talented and privileged, but disaffected, student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield). Hayes is naturally bright, comes from a privileged background, but has apparently slipped into apathy upon being disillusioned at the present state of affairs; now, he devotes most of his time to extra-curricular activities like his role as president of his fraternity. Malley tests him by offering a choice between a respectable grade of 'B' in the class with no additional work required or a final opportunity to re-engage with the material of the class and "do something." Before Todd makes his choice, he must listen to the second story: Dr. Malley's story of his former students Arian (Derek Luke) and Ernest (Michael Peña) and why they enlisted in the army to fight in Afghanistan after graduating from college.
For the third story: Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a charismatic Republican presidential hopeful, Senator Jasper Irving (Cruise), has invited TV journalist Janine Roth (Streep) to his office to announce a new war strategy in Afghanistan, hoping that Roth's positive coverage will help convince the public that the plan is sound. Roth has her doubts and fears she is being asked to become an instrument of government propaganda.
This film provides examples of:
- Actually Pretty Funny: As Arian and Ernest are preparing for their class presentation, Arian gets so nervous he drops his notes, and Ernest makes a joke about it to get him to lighten up. In response, Arian says, "You know why they got rid of affirmative action? It was because of his (Ernest's) GPA", which Ernest laughs at.
- Apathetic Student: Malley thinks Todd has become this - Todd, in turn, tries to argue he's actually The Cynic because of all he's seen in class and in the real world, but Malley isn't buying it.Malley: They bank on your apathy. They bank on your willful ignorance. They plan strategies around it. They try and figure out how much they can get away with.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Senator Irving intends this to be the case when he asks Janine, "Do you want to win The War on Terror? Answer yes or no." They're interrupted before Janine can respond.
- Book Ends: The movie begins and ends with Todd watching the news on television.
- Description Cut: As Falco watches Arian and Ernest try to survive after the helicopter they were in was shot down, he says he'd like to know who it was that said the area was secure. We immediately cut to Senator Irving.
- Downer Ending: Arian and Ernest both get killed because The Cavalry Arrived Late, Janine is unable to convince her boss they should be questioning Senator Irving's "new strategy" instead of reporting it, meaning nothing will change with The War on Terror, and Senator Irving will likely not be harmed by the failure of the Afghanistan mission. The only hopeful note is maybe Todd will start to become less apathetic.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The movie takes place over the course of a single day. Most of it takes place within an hour (albeit in different time zones).
- Flipping the Bird: Combined with Lame Comeback - when Ernest tells one of his fellow students the country that borders Minnesota (which he claims most people don't know) is Canada, the student flips him the bird. To emphasize what a Lame Comeback it is, Malley responds, "That's the most intelligent thing you've said all day."
- Jumped at the Call: Arian and Ernest both enlisted in the Army. Averted with Malley, who was drafted to fight in The Vietnam War, does all he can to talk Arian and Ernest out of joining the Army, and admits to Todd when they joined anyway, it broke his heart.
- Meaningful Echo: When he's explaining to Malley why he's become The Cynic, one of the examples Todd gives is how someone who decides to run for President of the United States starts their campaign by announcing they aren't running for President. Later, as Janine is leaving her interview with Senator Irving, she asks if the "new strategy" he's planning for Afghanistan is his way of announcing something bigger for his career, and the senator responds he is not running for President.
- No Party Given: Averted; Senator Jasper Irving is stated to be a Republican. We're even given the state he represents: Illinois.
- Oh, Crap!: Malley when he sees that Ernest and Arian have enlisted in the army.
- Patriotic Fervor: Of the "Patriotism Is Bad" side; the film lambastes wars misguidely fueled by this.
- Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure: Deserves a mention as an aversion. The battle scenes feature some strafing runs by A-10s, but instead of neat ordered lines of puffs, the result, from the point of view of those on the ground, is of several large grouped explosions, approximating very well the power of a 30mm shell and the disordered pattern in which the shells hit the ground in reality.
- That Reminds Me of a Song: When Janine is trying to convince her boss Howard that what Senator Irving is proposing is merely a new spin on the same failed strategy, she asks Howard if he remembers The Who, and then sings (out of tune) the last two lines of "Won't Get Fooled Again" ("Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss").
- Title Drop: When Malley is telling Arian and Ernest about World War I, he mentions how German officers admired the courage of the British soldiers they were fighting, while at the same time laughing at the stupidity of their superior officers, and to illustrate the points, he quotes General Max Von Gallwitz, who wrote, "Nowhere else have I seen such lions led by such lambs."
- While Rome Burns: Discussed:Malley: Rome is burning, son. And the problem is not with the people that started this - they're past irredeemable. The problem is with us, all of us, who do nothing, who just fiddle, who try to maneuver around the edges of the flame.
- Worst News Judgment Ever: Discussed - Senator Irving points out to Janine their interview will likely get only a couple of minutes on a broadcast that will be devoted to soft news only.
- Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: When Arian and Ernest tell Malley it was his class and his words that inspired them to join the Army in the first place, he admits if he'd known what they were going to do, he'd have cut his tongue out.