Redford's inconvenient reckoning
Hollywood's senior liberal, Robert Redford, gets down to business on three fronts in his latest movie, the political drama Lions for Lambs.
As director, lead actor and producer, he racks up a long list of grievances in the film, the most political of the seven movies Redford has directed: the lust for power, war-mongering and incompetence in Washington, unmotivated students, uncritical journalists and the dumbing-down of US television.
The wordy drama about America's wars, its media and its youth plays out over three plots.
Redford himself plays a California sociology professor who challenges a smart but disillusioned student (Andrew Garfield) to action through a word duel.
In Washington, the film delivers a liberal television journalist (Meryl Streep) into the hands of a charismatic Republican senator (Tom Cruise.) The senator wants to wrap the skeptical but also ambitious reporter around his finger by giving an exclusive interview and winning her over as a mouthpiece for a new military strategy in Afghanistan.
At the same time two young Americans, a black (Derek Luke) and a Latino (Michael Pena), have volunteered to fight in Afghanistan against the Taliban. While at home the fighting is verbal, the two front-line fighters come under real arms fire on a snow-covered mountain.
"What is Robert Redford's problem with America?" a conservative columnist with the cable television channel Fox News asked provocatively.
Redford shot back in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa: "That is the problem I got with it - I love it so much and I don't like to see what they are doing with it."
By "it" he means his country, and by "they" means the government in Washington and on this subject he does not mince words.
Cruise, in the role of a senator and friend of US President George W Bush, "comes from a very narrow singular point of view, which is basically the point of view that we have in the administration right now. It's very singular and ideological and you can't convince them any other way to think," Redford said.
This has ruined American values in recent years, Redford said. In the role of the professor, Redford wags his index finger.
"There is a general idea that young people over the last 10-15 years have grown more apathetic and cynical, but probably for some good reasons," the filmmaker noted. Under the current administration he thinks it's dangerous when kids don't get involved in something.
Redford also playfully questioned his own teaching abilities.
"I would be petrified if I was a teacher in front of these guys," he admitted in the interview. "I got kicked out of school, but I hope that this doesn't turn up in some biographies."
The 71-year-old movie star's habit of blending politics into his work on screen was evident early in his career. In 1972 he starred in The Candidate and was in a leading role again in 1976 with Dustin Hoffman in All the President's Men, a drama about the two Washington Post reporters who exposed the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon.
Redford also directed Quiz Show in 1994, a movie about a television game show popular in the 1950s that was tainted by scandal.
Redford and Cruise scored few points with Italian critics when Lions for Lambs was introduced at a Rome film festival.
The reaction from US critics has been mixed. The trade magazine Variety mocked it as a "star-heavy discourse that uses a lot of words to say nothing new," while Hollywood Reporter gave it this praise: "Politicians, the media, educators, military commanders and a docile public all come under fire in a well-made movie that offers no answers but raises many important questions."
How the US movie-going public reacts is not yet known.
Redford already is tackling his next politically explosive topic, according to Variety. The magazine said he will take over as director of the movie Against All Enemies, based on the memoir by the same name by Richard A Clarke, former terrorism advisor to Bush. The book accuses the Bush administration of ignoring the terror network of al- Qaeda within Afghanistan, and diverting public anger to Iraq - long a stone in the Bush family shoe - after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
(copyright dpa 2007)