"The drama Lions for Lambs and the documentary Darfur Now are both well-intentioned features that address big topics by focusing on a handful of individuals. Both films try to motivate us to take stock of our lives, to ask ourselves, “Is this what I really want to be doing with my time on Earth?” Both films worked, at least on me. Lions for Lambs caused me to spend time reflecting on my place in the larger community and Darfur Now made me vow to find a vital cause and get involved with it.
So good on you, Lions for Lambs and Darfur Now. Of course, to give you an idea of what to expect from the two films, I should also say: Yak, yak, yakkety yak, blah, blah, blah and yadda yadda yadda.
And now the particulars.
Lions for Lambs is directed by Robert Redford, who also stars along with several other big names. The story shifts between three locations. In Washington, D.C., Sen. Tom Cruise meets with reporter Meryl Streep to pitch his latest plan for the war in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, soldiers Michael Pena and Derek Luke put themselves on the line as they live their ideals about getting involved. And in California, professor Robert Redford, former teacher of the two soldiers, meets with disaffected student Andrew Garfield to try to convince the kid to invest himself in more than lunch.
The movie isn’t subtle. Some parts of the well-acted production, particularly the professor/student exchanges, play like one of those old Dragnet episodes where Jack Webb would debate some counter-culture know-it-all for the whole episode before delivering a knockout line that left the other party silent and shaken.
Still, it works for what it is, a minor, very talky call to action.
Darfur Now, of course, deals with the nightmarish situation in Darfur, Sudan, where, if the United Nations estimates are correct, 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been displaced from their villages. Filmmaker Theodore Braun challenges us into action by focusing on the actions of others. Darfur mother Hejewa Adam, whose village was destroyed by the Janjaweed militia — goons hired by the government — takes up arms and joins the rebel forces.
Outside of Sudan, actor Don Cheadle promotes the cause with a book he wrote with John Prendergast, Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, tries to nail some of the men behind the atrocities. California student Adam Sterling strives to get a bill passed that will cut off the state from companies tied to the bad guys. And so on.
Noble efforts all, but the film feels like several 60 Minutes segments stuck together. I tried to stay focused, but found my thoughts drifting past all the words, to how dusty everything appears in Sudan, to how dreamy young Mr. Sterling is, to the closest place I could pick up some sushi on the way home ...