There seems to be something admirable about how pugilisticly didactic Robert Redford’s "Lions for Lambs" is, with its spoonful of high-octane star Splenda to make the liberal guilt go down. And the film does have its unanticipated fans: Stephanie Zacharek at Salon acknowledges that it’s "self-righteous, didactic, dramatically and visually static and, in places, extremely boring," yet also finds it works:
Redford and [screenwriter Michael Matthew] Carnahan clearly intend it as a call to arms, which explains why the movie sometimes feels like a civics lesson, albeit one given by a moderately entertaining instructor. Still — like a good civics lesson — the picture adamantly spins out questions rather than answers.
Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman writes that "Lions for Lambs is so square it’s like something out of the gray twilight glow of the golden age of television…Yet Carnahan’s writing ignites familiar issues with vigor and snap; there’s audacity in its attempt to seize us with nothing but a war of rhetoric." Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly allows that "The movie is awful â€” and also oddly touching, even
adorable in its dogged sense of responsibility, its stubborn refusal of
style." "Robert Redfordâ€™s Lions for Lambs is the clunkiest, windiest, and roughest of the [new antiwar pictures]," writes David Edelstein at New York. "Most of it is dead on the screen. But its earnestness is so naked that it exerts a strange pull. You have to admire a director who works so diligently to help us rise above all the bad karma."
And surprise defender Armond White at the New York Press declares that "As you think along with the filmâ€™s presentation of ideas and watch characters caught in moments of moral and political tension, Lions for Lambs starts to articulate the stress of this political era." "Cruise, Streep and Redford do what movie star-artists are supposed to do," he adds. (No "smug"? No "condescending"?)
Elsewhere, a lukewarm Roger Ebert sighs "Useful new things to be said about the debacle in Iraq are in very short supply. I’m not sure that’s what ‘Lions for Lambs’ intends to demonstrate, but it does, exhaustingly." Adds Anthony Lane at the New Yorker, "It winces with liberal self-chastisement: Redford is surely smart enough to realize, as the professor turns his ire on those who merely chatter while Rome burns, that his movie is itself no better, or more morally effective, than high-concept Hollywood fiddling." Manohla Dargis at the New York Times writes that the film "tells us everything most of us know already, including the fact that politicians lie, journalists fail and youth flounders."
"For the life of me, I canâ€™t figure out what the point of all this onscreen palaver is supposed to be," writes Andrew Sarris at the New York Observer. "Of course, we should all be better human beings. So what else is new? And is a time-coded movie talkfest the best way to persuade us?" Dana Stevens at Slate suggests that "Lions for Lambs appears to have been created by someone who’s never seen one of these newfangled contraptions called ‘movies,’ or for that matter, witnessed that phenomenon known as ‘speech.’" Slant‘s Nick Schager adds that "it runs a brisk 88 minutes in large part because it doggedly, frustratingly refuses to truly delve into the issues it brings up, mistaking newspaper headline-based speeches full of tired talking points for thrilling, incisive debate." And we’ll give the last word to Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club, who concludes that "All talk and zero characterization, it doesn’t even feel like a real movie. Just because a film’s premise is ripped from the headlines doesn’t mean it needs to feel like an op-ed piece."