Robert Redford, who starred in “The Candidate,” "All the President’s Men” and “Three Days of the Condor,” insists that, “You should never hammer-blow an audience. I don’t think American people respond to that, and I don’t like it. But you do have something you want to say or have people think about.”
Robert Redford’s new film “Lions for Lambs,” which he directed, produced and co-stars in, has — no surprise — liberal leanings, and it makes conservatives look bad. It tackles politics, the media and the education system, all while keeping its main focus on failed policies in Iraq. And it manages to maintain a balance of being both serious and entertaining.
“That’s something I’ve wrestled with pretty much for as long as I’ve been making films,” says Redford during a recent publicity stop in Boston. “Particularly with political issues in films.”
The man who starred in “The Candidate,” "All the President’s Men” and “Three Days of the Condor” insists that, “You should never hammer-blow an audience. I don’t think American people respond to that, and I don’t like it. But you do have something you want to say or have people think about.”
He’s particularly proud of “All the President’s Men,” a film that he had to fight to get made.
“It was such a high point for journalism,’ he says. “Journalism basically saved our First Amendment, against what was amounting to totalitarian behavior. So I thought, ‘Well, at least I’m making a film that’s celebrating that.’ And, I thought, ‘[Watergate] will never happen again.’
“But,” he laughs softly, and adds, “Here it is, it is happening again. So you learn over time, don’t expect that a film is going to change anything.”
Bush Administration reference aside, Redford knows that half the battle is entertaining an audience, then hoping that you’ve also moved them.
“But if you want to inform while you’re entertaining, you’d better be very careful about the balance,” he says. “Because if you go too far to one side or the other, you’ll have trouble. I would rather have a film that seems very real, and people believe what they’re seeing. Then it makes you think about what’s going on. It doesn’t give you the answers, it just raises the questions.”
Some of the major questions in “Lions for Lambs” involve a liberal reporter played by Meryl Streep who’s interviewing a warmongering conservative senator played by Tom Cruise. Redford is fascinated by these two characters going head-to-head.
“You may give Tom’s character the benefit of the doubt,” he explains. “Let’s say he was a young upstart on his way up, and had a lot of integrity, but the system got him. Now he’s a person firmly in the grip of that system, and ambitiously so. He’s about winning, he’s about ego, it’s about his personal objectives for his party and himself.
“Meryl’s character is somebody who was very good at one time, had a lot of integrity and skill, but got trapped in the shift in journalism when it got co-opted by market share-minded people at newspapers. I wanted to show a character trapped by her own integrity, wanting to remind herself of a time when she easily could write a piece, but now she can’t.”
Of his own character in the film — a veteran college professor who tries to find out why one of his prize students (Andrew Garfield) has lost interest in school — he says he cast himself because he’d never played that part before. But, he adds, some irony was also involved.
“I got kicked out of University of Colorado after the first year,” he says, smiling. “I was a bad student. I was wasting my time because I was always nailed for either drawing in class or looking out the window or not paying attention, or challenging a teacher in a really hard way. I think I just sensed that my education was going to come in venturing in the world, and it did.
“After I was asked to leave, I worked for six months, then sailed to Europe when I was 18. I studied art in France and Italy, and went on the bum. And bumming around, living in youth hostels and on the backs of trucks and staying with families was such an education; that’s where my mind opened up. I had no interest in politics until I got engaged with people who asked me questions that I couldn’t answer. I was embarrassed, so I began to read different papers there, like the Herald Tribune and Le Figaro. I was reading about my own country, during Eisenhower and Nixon. So that turned me in a different direction.”
His goal for “Lions for Lambs” is that it will at least get a dialogue going.
“I would hope that this film would remind people about what the factors are that get us into these situations that happened before,” he says earnestly. “It happened during McCarthyism, it happened in Watergate, it happened in Iran-Contra, and it’s happening now again. There’s a repeated pattern of behavior and mind-set for all these things. Can the film ask the audience to stop and look hard at this because of what is going on in the film? Can you think about getting more active as the meter is ticking and time is running out? That would hopefully galvanize and audience to at least talk about it.”“Lions for Lambs” opens on Nov. 9.
Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org