What Next?  Robert Redford On America and Its Political Future

Robert Redford cares "deeply" about America.  In his new film "Lions For Lambs", the director challenges audiences to think about what to do to save it

photo of  Robert Redford
Robert Redford, director of the film "Lions For Lambs", which opens across North America on November 9.  The political drama stars Mr. Redford, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise.   (Photo: WireImage)

By Omar P.L. Moore

OCTOBER 22, 2007

Robert Redford spoke recently in San Francisco to several journalists about his new film.  Atop the roof of the Clift Hotel, Mr. Redford arrives to the assembled press group.  At 71 he is lean and trim, and refreshingly wears age, unaided by any plastic surgery that would likely adorn other legendary Hollywood film faces.  Wearing a pristine, spotless sky blue shirt, blue jeans and eye glasses, Robert Redford, a Santa Monica, California native who has made his home in Utah for more than a decade, is relaxed but no less passionate about the state of America, a nation he cares passionately about.  The actor-director is no stranger to political themes, with his appearances in such notable films as "All The President's Men", "The Candidate" and "Quiz Show" (which he directed.)  On a Monday earlier this month he declares it a beautiful day -- "physically, it's a beautiful day", he says -- an analysis made not by accident because he remains committed to the environmental and conservationist cause, dedicating much of his time to combating the dangers caused by global warming, an issue that has become radioactive in both its urgency to spurn action to stem it and in its adverse affects on the planet. 

He decries the sound bite interview, calmly saying that he is fed up of it, adding that some in the American mainstream media and many of his colleagues in Hollywood disdain it.   He confesses that marketing "Lions For Lambs", a film which he received the script of in October of 2006 -- one he said numerous people passed on -- was going to be "very difficult, because there's so many films out."  It was solely Mr. Redford's idea to hold screenings in several U.S. college towns, including Berkeley, California, where he was to host a Q&A for students there following a screening later in the day.  The idea was for the seasoned actor-director to open a forum of dialogue with the college and university students in Berkeley and in other campuses across the country.

"Lions For Lambs", which was shot over the first two months of 2007, is less about the current affairs events in politics, says the director -- noting the daily shifts in political situations -- than about the underlying framework that begets them.  "What are the fundamental factors that keep repeating themselves, that create these situations like we're in right now with this administration, this country, having lost so much in the last six years.  It's not the first time this has happened.  It happened in McCarthyism, it happened in Watergate.  It happened in Iran-Contra.  So there's a fundamental pattern that keeps repeating itself that involves the same characters who think the same way.  So you dramatize that in three categories," Redford said.  Aside from the rather noisy traffic a dozen stories below you can hear a pin drop when Mr. Redford speaks.  His tone is succinct, polite, and quietly impassioned, with thoughtfulness, introspection, concern and clear analysis flowing in his every spoken word.  Redford talks about today's young generation, which he characterized in this conversation as apathetic and disinterested.  He asserted that several factors, including the lack of a draft compelling the young to enlist in the U.S. Army as a reason why many youth disengage from the pertinent matters of the day, and the ultimate shunning of the political process, the 2004 U.S. presidential vote turnout by young people in the country notwithstanding.  "Things are getting worse and worse and worse and somebody needs to pay attention . . . and these are all issues that are put forth in the film."  The film, says the director puts the onus on the young to make up their minds about the course that their future and in turn, the future of their world will take.

photo of Lions for Lambs,  Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise
Meryl Streep as news journalist Janine Roth and Tom Cruise as U.S. senator Jasper Irving, in Robert Redford's "Lions For Lambs".  (Photo: MGM/UA)

The film does have a seductive character in Senator Irving, and casting Mr. Cruise in the role was no accident - a smiling, charming politician -- "which makes him more dangerous," the director says at one point during this interview.  Redford spends a considerable amount of time talking about some of his new film's structure and events, citing "The Candidate" and "All The President's Men", mentioning that he's "always been interested in the political scene, since 1970."  Reflecting on a question to him that ponders whether "Lions For Lambs" could have been made at any time during the last 40 years of American political history, instead of at this particular moment in time, Mr. Redford provides a detailed response.  "Times have changed so drastically since the time I started doing [these films] -- because there's always a new film to be made about the new condition.  But this was different because this is about what is fundamentally unchanged," the director says.  "And they don't go away [those who possess a particular mindset for political corruption and the orchestration of unjust wars.]  I mean, you would have thought after Watergate that those people that did all the dirty tricks for Nixon and lied and cheated . . . and his effort to withhold the truth, to hide the truth, and conceal the truth, and the press going after him.  You would have thought that once that high point was reached that would never happen again?  It is!  Only worse!"  During the moments he mentions Nixon, he has pounded the table at which he sits.  Mr. Redford then reflects on his new film's characters.  "That's why Tom Cruise [as Senator Irving] represents something about winning -- 'we gotta win, we gotta win, we gotta win' -- that's very American, both good and bad.  And [Meryl Streep] representing . . . a category (the press) that was much stronger 30 years ago.  After Watergate, the press was at its highest point.  Now look."

Robert Redford is not interested in giving easy answers, or answers at all to the audiences who will see "Lions For Lambs", which opens in the U.S. and Canada on November 9.  His motivation, he says, is to ask the audience, "what do you think about this?"  He said that he wanted to strictly focus on impressionistic aspects on the characters contained within the film's tripartite structure, without creating distractions in the film's narrative which would yield any concentration on the press reporter, the senator, the students, or the professor.  Responding to a question about a cable news outlet that has accused Mr. Redford of being unpatriotic and a hater of America because of his activist and conservation work, the legendary figure is quick to say that he loves his country and does not want to see it continue down the path that he says it has slid down on.  The filmmaker later reiterates that he is "worried about my country, obviously."  He continues on, saying that "I'm a little bit in mourning for what I've known in my life -- pretty great things . . . I've lived through a lot of events -- from World War Two, McCarthyism to the assassination of a president, and a vice president.  And Iran, and upheavals.  I've never seen my country in as bad a shape as it is now . . . how it's seen . . . on the world stage, how we're perceived.  What one single administration can do to trash so many categories.  It makes me sad.  It breaks my heart.  So what can I do about it?  The only thing I can do is to create a drama out there that would put certain things out there for people to think about, because if we don't get involved, somehow, someway, it will continue.  And I don't know they'll be . . . many chapters."  There is a weighty and regretful tone in Mr. Redford's voice as he articulates his feelings in this response, perhaps an indication that contemplation of Mr. Redford's twilight years and a retrospective outlook at the generations through which he has lived and observed are all rushing at him in an instant and that he is treasuring all of the great memories once again at this very second. 

"All I would hope for is that they (young people) take some action.  And it's not, 'everybody should go into the military.'  You can create another peace corps.  You can go into community activism.  You can get active.  And don't let this kind of leadership ever come again.  Ill-equipped.  Incompetent."

"Lions For Lambs" opens in the U.S. and Canada on November 9 and is written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, who also was a producer of the film.

Robert Redford Speaks: Click here for the audio page of Mr. Redford's Interview

Redford, Streep, Cruise: Two and a Half Generations, Three Cinema Icons


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