Robert Redford’s oppressively earnest Lions for Lambs opened very weakly at the box office in its opening weekend, coming in fourth in U.S. receipts, bringing in just $6.7 million.
The film explicitly opposes President Bush and the Iraq War (what a brave stand to take these days!) and features Tom Cruise in a supporting role, which clearly was not enough to overcome the film’s unappealing trailer and astoundingly lame concept: a long-winded and superficially fair but fundamentally skewed discussion of the merits of the Iraq War.
Apparently Redford did not realize that most people have already had much more than enough of such discussions on TV, radio, and the Internet and in the newspapers and magazines. How out of touch can you get?
Consisting largely of a series of lectures disguised as intellectual dialogues, Lions for Lambs is one of the most boring films I’ve seen in years.
The new Christmastime comedy Fred Claus, starring Vince Vaughn, came in third, bringing in $19.2 million. That constitutes the weakest opening weekend for a Vaughn-starring comedy since 2003.
Numbers 1 and 2 at the box office were Bee Movie and American Gangster, respectively, reversing their positions of a week earlier.
The grim Coen brothers crime drama No Country for Old Men opened well, grossing $1.2 million at just 28 theaters.
The George Clooney starrer Michael Clayton, another film opposing President Bush and the Iraq War, fell out of the top ten, earning only $1.7 million in its fifth week, a very poor performance, especially given the presence of Clooney’s star power.
Clearly, audiences know what Hollywood thinks of the Iraq War and is not interested in further messages from the Left Coast on the matter, even if Tom Cruise’s face is on the poster.
I think it’s mainly what I said earlier: the WWII films were both in agreement with audiences on the war and, perhaps even more important, were of good quality. Today’s Iraq War films are generally boring and didactic. Audiences never tired of hearing about WWII and seeing movies about it, but for us today Iraq is something of a side matter: a vanishingly small percentage of the U.S. population is fighting in Iraq or is very close to someone who is. Hence the war just doesn’t have the same personal importance for most people as WWII did.
But a good story is a good story, and people go to movies about all kinds of things with which they have no personal experience, so something else is obviously the problem with these films. The last couple of years’ worth of films about the Iraq War have been so blatantly intent on making political points that audiences have already heard ad nauseum, and the story lines are so tired and over-familiar, that it’s difficult for anyone but an obsessive Bush-hater to get any real interest in them. And even then, why pay $10 bucks to get in when you can get it all on CNN? The failure to create strong stories is the reason these films aren’t doing well, in my view.
What’s curious is that the WWII films were made during a conflict that was generally supported by the American public and so it’s not surprising that many movies supporting the cause would do well.
On the other hand, the Iraq conflict, I think, is pretty unpopular yet these films overtly criticizing it are flopping. Is it just that people are equally sick of the war and of Hollywood sanctimony?
I think you’re absolutely right, Dean. The propaganda films of WWII seem much less didactic and are infinitely more entertaining and insightful than the modern-day antiwar films. I suspect it’s simply because they were smarter about making films back in those days in general, for they had not yet come to the insight–hugely false–that stories don’t matter and only characters and ideas do. So in creating a film that was meant to inspire a nation at war, they naively created a strong story and found vivid characters with which to populate it.
How much better today’s antiwar films would if they took the same terribly unfashionable approach!
Can you comment on how this series of anti-Iraq war films is different from popular cinema during WWII?
It seems like people still enjoy many of those WWII films even after several decades, but I doubt these new films will stand the test of time.
Comments are closed.