Creating change

Jeremy Gordon

Robert Redford is no stranger to political movies. In 1976, he played reporter Bob Woodward, the reporter who broke the Watergate story in All the President’s Men. Thirty-one years later, Redford is back in topical territory with his latest film, Lions for Lambs, in which he both stars and directs. The film, which follows three separate storylines that intertwine by the end, focuses on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as Redford tells it, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

“When I started the film I thought, ‘This can’t be a film about bringing these issues up, because the issues will be yesterday’s news by the time the film comes out. It’s got to be about something deeper,'” Redford explained in a press conference. “So the film’s not about the war, otherwise there wouldn’t be those three stories that are meant to be there. The war is more of a catalyst for the other issues to be looked at.”

The issue that the film is based on is simple: What are you doing to contribute? Redford’s character, Stephen Malley, is a college professor who is counseling a jaded student of his throughout the entire film; almost all of their interaction takes place in Redford’s office. The student, played by Andrew Garfield, believes that there’s no point in getting involved because it’s impossible to change anything.

“(Garfield’s character) is trying to justify not getting involved by saying, ‘Why should I?’ in a system that’s so corrupt and diseased, and he’s got a point,” Redford says. “The issue is, ‘What is the student going to do?’ Is he going to take his potential and take it somewhere and become active?”

Although Redford makes a careful point not to make any judgments in the film, he doesn’t mince his words when speaking about the soldiers currently fighting the war on terror.

“Their innocence is completely trashed by leaders who don’t know what they’re doing, who put these kids at risk, in harm’s way, and commit them to die fighting for something that never should have happened in the first place,” he says. “They’ve never been at war, and yet they’re designing something that’s putting young people at risk.”

For Redford, the war in Iraq is more indicative of a historical arc that he’s lived through, one that includes McCarthyism, Watergate, Iran-Contra and now this.

“It’s like a pattern that keeps showing up in history, and that’s where you guys come in,” he says. “The film tries to put that out there: is there anything you recognize?”

The film is targeted at today’s youth, with the intention of getting them to think about the current political climate.

“It’s for you guys this movie is made for, it’s for our generation,” Garfield says when asked about portraying his character.

Another one of the film’s storylines focuses on two former students of Malley’s, Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Peña) and Arian Finch (Derek Luke), who are academic scholarship students who have joined the army as their contribution to society despite Malley’s protests. Ernest and Arian are on a top-secret mission in Afghanistan that goes wrong, as the film backtracks through their history and shows how they ended up in the army. For Michael Peña, the character was easy to believe.

“I know guys from the South Side of Chicago who went to the war, and some of them came back from it different,” Peña says, a Chicago native. “Those guys, they really had to believe, and they wanted to make a difference and keep our way of living. If anything, that’s what the movie is about – making a stand, and really going for something.”

Medill sophomore Jeremy Gordon is a PLAY writer. He can be reached at [email protected]