Lions for Lambs (2007)

I watched a lot of war movies before I started this blog. Unfortunately I cannot review them anymore after a while that’s why I have to re-watch a lot of them, also some that I didn’t really like the first time. Lions for Lambs is one of them. I can’t really say I didn’t like it. I watched it and forgot it the moment I turned off the TV.

I’m reading an interesting book at the moment. It hasn’t been translated but I add the full title for my German readers. The book is called “Antikriegsfilm – Zur Ästhetik, Geschichte und Theorie einer filmhistorischen Praxis” and it’s as dry as the title makes it sound. It’s an academic analysis of anti-war movies and I will write more about it soon. In any case, Lions for Lambs is mentioned as one of the typical modern – meaning post 9/11 – anti-war movies. The movie isn’t analysed as the book focusses on combat movies but it’s mentioned and since I had the DVD I watched it again.

I found it more interesting this time but still consider it to be a failed movie. It has an idea but no real story and in order to cover that up, Redford (he is the director as well) chose to tell three parallel stories. Obviously none of them on its own would have made a whole movie and together it’s a patchwork circling around the same theme: Is it justified to go to war in order to maintain peace?

The movie moves back and forth between three different stories. One focusses on cocky senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) who wants to convince journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) that it makes sense to send troops to Afghanistan and that this time they will win the war. He says that he has certain information that there is an entry route from Iraq, crossing Iran, into Afghanistan. Roth is a very clever journalist and has soon found out that what he wants her to write is pure propaganda. She thinks she should write an entirely different piece instead.

While these two are discussing, a Harvard professor of political science (Robert Redford) tries to motivate his most promising student. He tells him about two other students he had, two people from underprivileged families, who finally signed up to assure their university fees will get paid. Lack of money and misguided idealism made them take a hasty decision.

While they all discuss, the two former students have just been shot down over Afghanistan. They were part of the troops sent by senator Irving. They hit the ground alive but are soon surrounded by enemy troops and spend the rest of the movie not making a difference but fighting for their lives.

All the people in the three stories are trying to make up their minds about extremely important questions and decisions. The story that worked best for me and which I really enjoyed is the one between Tom Cruise’s and Meryl Streep’s character. They are such excellent actors, it’s a joy to watch them.

The biggest problem of Lions for Lambs is that its intentions are far better than its execution. Still, if you want to see a movie that shows the different arguments, pro and contra military intervention, and if you don’t mind that it is very wordy, you might like it.

9th Company aka 9 Rota (2005) or “No one has ever managed to conquer Afghanistan”

Many have called 9th Company a Russian Platoon. I think it would be more accurate to call it a mix of Full Metal Jacket and Hamburger Hill. I compare it with Full Metal Jacket because of the first part, that is taking place in the boot camp, and with Hamburger Hill because the second part is also based on a true infantry combat story that consisted of the holding of a hill. But be it as it may, it is easily understood what it means  that this movie deserves to be named among the very best of its kind: It is extremely good. And in some respects (e.g. character development, emotions) it is even better than the aforementioned.

We watch the 9th Company from their early days in boot camp in Uzbekistan until they are finally flown to Afghanistan. The boot camp part is one of the best I have ever seen. And its end, the night before they depart to Afghanistan, is unique. This scene shows the whole difference between this Russian movie and any American infantry combat movie I have ever seen. The soldiers show emotions, even those of fear and sadness and speak about them openly. They also talk about why they volunteered to go to Afghanistan and one of them, a painter says: “War is only life and death, nothing unneccessary”, meaning he thinks it is utterly beautiful. Of course he is immediately contradicted by others.

The long boot camp sequence and the following early days in Afghanistan are heavy and foreboding. It is a slow and effective build-up until the final intense combat part.

The 9th company was among the last to leave Afghanistan. Their last mission was to hold Hill 3234. A group of only 36 soldiers fought against the superior number of 400 Afghan rebels. We see many of those that we got to know and like during the movie get killed. There is a moment when those who survived go completely mental so that in the end they are victorious however highly decimated. But this battle is historical for other reasons as well. It was the last battle in the last war the crumbling Soviet union was ever to fight.

The key message is delivered early on, when the recruits learn about the culture and the land they are going to invade. The instructor who teaches them says literallay : “In all of history, no one has ever managed to conquer Afghanistan. No one. Ever”

The movie is gripping from beginning to end. And the characters are remarkably interesting. Even the instructor at the boot camp, an apparently mean and sadistic brute, is shown in all his complexity and we understand him in the end. What I liked best is the inside look at the Afghan terrain. I had a feeling to understand why nobody except those who lived there for centuries was ever capable of mastering this terrain. Those mountains with their tunnel systems are not unlike the Vietnamese  jungle. An abundance of hiding places; the enemy could be anywhere at any time.

This movie gets 5/5 stars. Watch it!

Restrepo or A Documentary on the War in Afghanistan that is said to be outstanding

I am not much of a documentary buff but I will certainly watch this one as soon as I get a chance.

For those of you who live in New York or Los Angeles it will be aired as of this weekend.

Winner of the Sundance 2010 documentary award it is getting one good review after the other.

Check out the trailer and Restrepo´s Homepage.