Why Are They Famous?
Robert Redford: Act like Lions, Be like Lambs
By Jabulani Leffall
Nov 9, 2007

There’s a lot wrong with Hollywood right now. 

Beyond the avarice, the hypocrisy, the plastic personalities, blimp-sized egos, phony environmentalists in limos, there is the media and entertainment and talent agency cartels all cheered on by the sycophantic Access Hollywood types.

Charles Robert Redford is the antidote.

And oh yeah, there’s also a high-profile contract dispute that has nothing to do with healthcare, unfair labor conditions or practices, or even corporate embezzlement or proletariat inspired extortion. But this brouhaha could nonetheless put struggling actors, nascent writers, carpenters, truck drivers, caterers, costumers, studio security guards, grips and other support staff on the dole and into eviction proceedings anyway. 

Send in Robert Redford.

Outside the Tinsletown façade, a lot is going on but not a damn thing happening. There’s the no-probable-cause wiretapping, the soldiers dying by the hundreds for just about nothing, the private armies with secret agendas killing men, women and children and a bull*&)t, too-early-for-anyone-to-care presidential race. Let’s see what else, growing nativism and bigotry disguised as a “debate” on immigration. 

Then you got the inflated mortgages used to move collateralized debt obligations through Hedge Funds anchored by the living-beyond-their-means borrowers who complete the cycle of financial debt the United States of America now finds itself in -- to historic proportions.

Call Bob Redford. He is the remedy to this type of downer talk, these Unabomber-esque, semi-Marxist manifestos. He’s here to save the day. 

In his latest directorial offering, Lions for Lambs, Academy Award-winning actor, director, environmentalist, golden boy, septuagenarian sex symbol and favorite son, brother and uncle in this beautiful but beleaguered republic, Redford hopes to spark some conversations.

These conversations, he expects, will be more rational and impartial than this blolumn or, for that matter, that of the babbling talking heads on cable news.

In the film Redford will explore the very topical and extremely relevant themes of war, sacrifice, idealism, self-worth, ambition, dishonesty and selfishness in attempt not to hold a mirror to us and make us watch and look closely.

Redford recently told LA Weekly  -- he actually talks to LA Weekly -- of his discovery and epiphany, during, of all things, a standardized test in school. It was the cognitive portion of the exam, where one would ask one’s self “what’s wrong with this picture?” Redford said he noticed the lady in the picture had only one sock on going to meet the mailman amid a seemingly perfect Rockwell-style rendering.

To Redford, it is obvious that the solution lies with us as individuals. That’s an American ideal and Redford wants to remind us of that. See, it’s not that the emperor has no clothes, it’s that many of us are answering the doors with one sock on, distracted, pre-occupied by a fast moving ticker-tape and terror-threat laden world, going throughout our daily lives not realizing we don’t have equal or solid footing. 

Worse, we are unable to perceive this minute sociological fracture in our neighbors much less ourselves. But Redford sees it. In the movie his character, Prof. Stephen Malley states: “the problem is not the people that started this, the problem is with us, who do nothing.”

Here come the haters though. And if the early reviews of the flick are any indication, the socks of critics and naysayers are still off. Predictably Lions has been greatly maligned by conservatives and liberal intelligentsia types alike as a sanctimonious opus, as socractic dialogues with explosions, as forced propaganda. 

Now I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t make a judgment in Redford’s favor or against him but my sentiment is that you can’t look at this movie based on merit nor would you want to give him a free pass because of his iconic status. The plain truth is that he took on the project because the subject matter is bigger than him and that’s what makes him great, screw the movie. Who cares about method acting or shot selection or character composition when the stakes are this high?

I mean really. Think people. The title itself is derived from World War I folklore where a general for the German Kaiser was said to have remarked that Brit soldiers were being led to the slaughter by idiots, hence the phrase Lions for Lambs. Fastforward and in other words, it’s easy for a draft dodger to say of the Iraqi insurgency, “bring it on,” as some poor kid from Paducah, Ky. or New York City gets his face blown off. 

Granted some movies are good, some films are awe-inspiring. Conversely, some movies suck, some films blow, but this Redford joint is a rare case where, like The Candidate, Three Days of the Condor, All the Presidents Men, Ordinary People and Quiz Show, a movie and/or film is simply important. It’s important, not for "Boffo B.O." or gold statues but because an artist is making an overt and not sneaky, subtle or self-indulgent, political statement -- taking a philosophical stand. The actor, the auteur, the man is putting his money and heart where his mouth is.

Who better to do it than him. If all the things I mentioned above are what’s bad, Redford is what is still good about Hollywood and America. He’s the nice white man. Not that the nice white man who goes out of his way to get minority votes but the genuinely nice white man, the All-American with a hard scrabble love for country and truth. And he’s a cinematic God to boot.

Few can say they don’t smile inside or cheer or let the kid come out of them when they see those lights exploding and the sparks raining down like an electric shower after the movie-ending dinger in The Natural. Who didn’t pump a fist when a better-looking Robert Woodward brought down the Nixon cabal in Presidents.  What man didn’t make an excuse that something was in their eye when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were surrounded and made that last stand.  

You would have to be Iowa-ethanol corny not to have gotten laid in 1973 when you took your girl to see The Way We Were. And wasn’t that dude gracious for not playing Michael Corleone in The Godfather to the consternation of casting directors, then, but the delight of everyone for the rest of eternity. We don't want him as a villain anyway, do we? 

Look. No really, that’s what Robert Redford is trying to tell you: “don’t watch, look.” At this point, he doesn’t have anything to prove. He really is the battle -- weary and yet still idealistic professor, the teacher, trying to compel the consumer public and political populous to give a damn, to put up or shut up.

Really, Redford is out of the fight but he’s inciting a younger generation of artists and directors to do something besides diddle models, walk on red carpets, booze their way through junkets and pretend to be doing something important instead of actually doing something important.

Here’s a man who bought land and created a forum and market for filmmakers, writers and actors to enter the world stage in Sundance. None of this is an excuse for crap on celluloid. However, at this point with hardware on the shelf, a career that anyone would want as well as money that anyone would want and prestige and respect that everyone wants, is it more important to have your picture in Variety or paint a picture? Better yet, is it more important to, having painted that picture, look at a picture and tell you what’s wrong with it. 

In summary, I say, “you go Robert Redford!” Save us from ourselves or at least, keep trying. Because if Lions is a blatant shot at the current administration, an obvious appeal to readers of Mother Jones and the old hippies turned establishment prudes, so be it.

Who else is going to do it? I mean, the press as a collective sure isn’t taking meaningful shots at the status quo. Besides someone “important” needs to pop up every now and tell you, “put your socks on, there is somebody at the door.” 

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