Lions for Lambs

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Lions for Lambs
Lambs first poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Redford
Written byMatthew Michael Carnahan
Produced by
CinematographyPhilippe Rousselot
Edited byJoe Hutshing
Music byMark Isham
United Artists[1]
Wildwood Enterprises[2]
Brat Na Pont[2]
Andell Entertainment[2]
Distributed byMGM Distribution Co. (United States)[1]
20th Century Fox (International)[3]
Release dates
  • November 8, 2007 (2007-11-08) (Hong Kong)
  • November 9, 2007 (2007-11-09) (U.S.)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$35 million[4]
Box office$63.2 million[5]

Lions for Lambs is a 2007 American war drama film directed by Robert Redford about the connection between a platoon of United States soldiers in Afghanistan, a U.S. senator, a reporter, and a Californian college professor. It stars Redford, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, and Andrew Garfield in his feature film debut. It was the first Cruise/Wagner Productions film since the company joined with United Artists subsequent to Cruise's falling out with Paramount Pictures in 2006.[6]

With a title that alludes to incompetent leaders sending brave soldiers into the slaughter of battle,[7] the film takes aim at the U.S. government's prosecution of the wars in the Middle East, showing three different simultaneous stories: a senator who launches a new military strategy and details it to a journalist, two soldiers involved in said operation, and their college professor trying to re-engage a promising student by telling him their story. The film was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, and directed by Robert Redford. It was released in North America on November 9, 2007, to negative reviews and disappointing box office receipts, but ultimately was profitable.


Two students at a West Coast university, Arian and Ernest, at the urging of their idealistic professor, Dr. Malley, attempt to do something important with their lives. They make the bold decision to enlist in the army to fight in Afghanistan after graduating from college.

Dr. Malley also attempts to reach talented and privileged, but disaffected, student Todd Hayes, who is not at all like Arian and Ernest. He 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 Dr. Malley's story of his former students Arian and Ernest and why they are in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a charismatic Republican presidential hopeful, Senator Jasper Irving, has invited liberal TV journalist Janine Roth to his office to announce a new war strategy in Afghanistan: the use of small units to seize strategic positions in the mountains before the Taliban can occupy them. The senator hopes 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. She informs her commercially-minded boss of her plans to call out the senator's new strategy for what she feels is a ploy, but is shot down. Ultimately, Irving's version of the story is run without the critical interaction. Whether Roth gave in and toed the company line or quit her job is not clear.

In Afghanistan, a helicopter carrying Arian and Ernest is hit by Taliban insurgents. Ernest falls out, and Arian jumps after him. Ernest's leg is badly wounded, and he suffers a compound fracture, rendering him immobile as the Taliban arrive. After a drawn-out gunfight, the U.S. soldiers run out of ammunition. Rather than getting captured, Arian helps Ernest stand up, facing the enemies and turning their empty weapons against them, an action which prompts the Taliban to kill them. The unit commanders attempt a rescue of the downed soldiers, sending A-10 Warthogs, but the weather, time, and distance interfere.

Hayes is watching television with a friend. A reporter is discussing a singer's private life, while below runs a strip announcing Senator Irving's new military plan for Afghanistan. Hayes suddenly falls quiet, contemplating the choices with which his professor had left him.



Matthew Michael Carnahan was inspired to write the script when, while channel surfing trying to find a USC Trojans football game, he saw a news report about a Humvee that had flipped into an Iraqi river, drowning about five U.S. soldiers. Carnahan considered it an awful way to die, and "couldn't get past it fast enough", considering he was too indifferent, "talking so much and not doing a damn thing",[8] and "the same hypocrite that I so can't stand in our country, the kind of people that will flip right past the news to get to Access Hollywood".[9] He first considered turning it into a stage play, but the military scenes, in particular the helicopter ones, made him turn it into a film screenplay.[10] The character of Todd Hayes was inspired by Carnahan himself during college.[10]

When Robert Redford read the script, he became very interested, considering it smart as opposed to Hollywood's many "straight-out entertainment" projects, and also tricky due to the three stories "that seem to be disparate but are connected and have to come together in a vortex at the end", and that needed to be represented in a way the movie "wouldn't be categorized as a lefty film".[11] Redford considered that the movie's focus was for audiences "to be entertained in a way that made them think."[9]

An Irish newspaper claimed that "The name of the film is derived from a remark made by a German officer during World War I, comparing British soldiers' bravery with the calculated criminality of their commanders".[12] While several reviewers in the UK have criticized the film for misquoting the commonly used phrase of "lions led by donkeys",[13][14] in an article written for The Times on the origin of the title, Brian Dimuccio and Dino Vindeni claimed that:

One such composition included the observation, 'Nowhere have I seen such Lions led by such Lambs.' While the exact provenance of this quotation has been lost to history, most experts agree it was written during the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest clashes in modern warfare. While some military archivists credit the author as an anonymous infantryman, others argue that the source was none other than General Max von Gallwitz, Supreme Commander [sic] of the German forces. In either case, it is generally accepted to be a derivation of Alexander the Great's proclamation, 'I am never afraid of an army of Lions led into battle by a Lamb. I fear more the army of Lambs who have a Lion to lead them.'[15]

Though Lions for Lambs was the first United Artists venture since Cruise and Paula Wagner attained control, executives billed the film as a "Robert Redford vehicle."[16] Filming began on January 29, 2007,[17] and Redford considered the movie "the tightest schedule I've ever worked with," with barely a year between announcement and release.[9]


Lions for Lambs is the first film under Cruise's and Wagner's new venture with film studio United Artists.[18] MSNBC reported that Cruise was worried about how the film would perform, because of how the film industry would view him based on its success or failure at the box office.[18]


Critical response[edit]

Lions for Lambs holds a 27% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 185 reviews, with a weighted average of 4.80/10. The site's consensus states: "Despite its powerhouse cast, Lions for Lambs feels like a disjointed series of lectures, rather than a sharp narrative, and ends up falling flat."[19] On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 47 out of 100, based on 36 reviews.[20] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade C on scale of A to F.[21]

Film critic Roger Ebert gave it two and a half stars, noting that at the beginning of the film the viewer is "under the delusion that it's going somewhere." As the film progresses, Ebert wrote that interest is lost, noting, "When we begin to suspect it's going in circles, our interest flags."[22] Matt Pais of the Chicago Tribune also gave the film two and a half stars, and wrote in summation: "Redford and Streep give it their all, but Cruise is Cruise, and the go-nowhere 'Lions' is more of an imitation of life than a reflection on it."[23] A USA Today review gave the film two and a half stars as well, in a negative review titled: "As entertainment, 'Lions' whimpers rather than roars."[24] Reviewer Claudia Puig commented, "Though characters make some strong points, the film feels preachy and falls flat as entertainment."[24] The New York Post gave the film one and a half stars, and did not recommend it, writing: "if you want to be bored by pompous-assery, 'Meet the Press' is free."[25] The Guardian was more critical, giving the film only one star, and calling it "a muddled and pompous film about America's war on terror."[26]

Derek Elley of Variety wrote that though the film was "star-heavy", it felt like "the movie equivalent of an Off Broadway play," and "uses a lot of words to say nothing new."[27] The New York Times also mentioned the amount of dialogue in the film, writing: "It's a long conversation, more soporific than Socratic, and brimming with parental chiding, generational conflict and invocations of Vietnam," and the Los Angeles Times described the lecturing in the film as "dull and self-satisfied."[28][29] The subtitle of the review in the Los Angeles Times was: "As a matter of policy, 'Lions for Lambs' doesn't play."[29] In a review entitled "Political drama feels more like a lecture" in The Boston Globe, Wesley Morris wrote: "It does not feel good to report that a movie with Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise makes the eyelids droop. But that's what 'Lions for Lambs' does."[30] Writing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reviewer William Arnold wrote positively of the segments of the film involving Robert Redford's character: "His character, who hopes to save America one slacker at a time, rings true; and his real-life conviction and his fears for democracy come through."[31] Amy Biancolli of the Houston Chronicle highlighted Redford's direction of the film, commenting that it was not his best film, but it was "his bravest."[32] Ray Bennett of The Hollywood Reporter described Lions for Lambs as "a well-made movie that offers no answers but raises many important questions."[33]

Box office[edit]

The film took in 6.7 million USD in its opening weekend and debuted at the number four spot.[34] Despite a slow start, the film ultimately grossed $63 million worldwide, nearly doubling its budget. Including marketing costs, the movie failed to recoup its overall $120 million budget.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "AFI|Catalog". Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b c "Lions for Lambs (2007)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  3. ^ "Lions for Lambs (2007)". BBFC. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  4. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (October 23, 2007). "'Lions' star roars at Rome: Cruise leaves it to Redford to lash out". Variety. Retrieved 2020-04-04.
  5. ^ a b "Lions for Lambs (2007)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-11-28.
  6. ^ Hayes, Dade (October 21, 2007). "Cruise rolls out 'Lions for Lambs': Film puts stars on frontlines of political debate". Variety. Archived from the original on October 24, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  7. ^ The Hollywood Reporter. "Lions for Lambs". BY RAY BENNETT, OCTOBER 22, 2007. [1]
  8. ^ Horn, John (2007-11-04). "Sick of doing nothing". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-11-28.
  9. ^ a b c Halbfinger, David M. (September 9, 2007). "Mr. Sundance Goes Back to Washington". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-28.
  10. ^ a b Summers, J. Ryan (2008-11-08). "Matthew Michael Carnahan Explains Lions for Lambs Agenda". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-11-28.
  11. ^ Corliss, Richard (2007-11-02). "The Lions Roar". Time. Archived from the original on November 3, 2007. Retrieved 2008-11-28.
  12. ^ Lynch, Donal; Padraic McKiernan; Constance Harris; Madeleine Keane (November 11, 2007). "Trouble with their lions". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2007-11-11.
  13. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (November 9, 2007). "Lions for Lambs". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2007-11-14.
  14. ^ Lister, David (November 10, 2007). "The Week in Arts: Redford's sheepish response". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on November 13, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-14.
  15. ^ DiMuccio, Brian; Dino Vindeni (October 16, 2007). "What's the significance of the title 'Lions for Lambs'?". The Times. London. Retrieved 2007-11-13.
  16. ^ Staff; The Hollywood Reporter (November 13, 2007). "Cruise film "Lions" a lamb at foreign box office". Reuters. Reuters/Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2007-11-14.
  17. ^ "United Artists' "Lions for Lambs" to Be Released Worldwide by MGM" (Press release). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. February 21, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  18. ^ a b Hazlett, Courtney (November 8, 2007). "Tom Cruise 'extremely worried' about 'Lions'". MSNBC.
  19. ^ "Lions for Lambs". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  20. ^ "Lions for Lambs (2007): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  21. ^ "LIONS FOR LAMBS (2007) C". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  22. ^ Ebert, Rogert (November 8, 2007). "Lions for Lambs". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on November 10, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  23. ^ Pais, Matt (November 7, 2007). "Lions for Lambs: Finally, someone is having a basic conversation about American foreign policy!". Chicago Tribune. pp. Metromix Chicago Movies. Archived from the original on November 10, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  24. ^ a b Puig, Claudia (November 9, 2007). "As entertainment, 'Lions' whimpers rather than roars". USA Today. USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  25. ^ Smith, Kyle (November 9, 2007). "Sheep Shots". New York Post. NYP Holdings, Inc. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  26. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (November 9, 2007). "Reviews: Lions for Lambs". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  27. ^ Elley, Derek (October 22, 2007). "Lions for Lambs Review". Variety. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  28. ^ Dargis, Manohla (November 9, 2007). "Movie Review: Lions for Lambs". The New York Times.
  29. ^ a b Chocano, Carina (November 9, 2007). "MOVIE REVIEW, 'Lions for Lambs': As a matter of policy, 'Lions for Lambs' doesn't play". Los Angeles Times.
  30. ^ Morris, Wesley (November 9, 2007). "Lions for Lambs Movie Review: Political drama feels more like a lecture". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  31. ^ Arnold, William (November 8, 2007). "Disjointed plots butcher the powerful potential in 'Lions for Lambs'". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved 2007-11-15.
  32. ^ Biancolli, Amy (November 8, 2007). "Not Redford's best, but his bravest". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-11-15.
  33. ^ Bennett, Ray (October 23, 2007). "Bottom Line: An honest but a bit dry attempt at a serious discussion on the merits of current U.S. military strategies". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2007-10-24. Retrieved 2020-04-04.
  34. ^ Rich, Joshua (November 11, 2007). "Box Office Report:Bee Movie: Swarm Alert! Jerry Seinfeld's animated comedy flew into first place on its second weekend, Fred Claus performed way under expectations, and the latest Cruise missile misfired". Entertainment Weekly. Entertainment Weekly and Time Inc.

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