Topics on the table: the war on terror, the lack of a battle plan to wage it, the governmental policy of disinformation, the complicity of the press in all this, the general lowering of journalistic standards, the apathy of the younger generation, the ivory-towerism of academe, and (if that's not enough) the responsibility of each and every individual citizen to get involved, make a difference, act out a slogan. The action in the film, which is to say the talk, talk, talk, takes place in three arenas: the Capitol Hill office of a go-getter GOP senator, entertaining a veteran newshound in an hour-long one-on-one interview ("My honest effort to keep the press better informed"); a snowy Afghan mountaintop on which two old college buddies lie wounded and marooned; and the office of their former Poli-Sci professor at "a California university," where he now, conscience-stricken over his vain attempt to dissuade them from joining the military, fights for the soul of a disengaged student of bright promise and smart mouth. The shifting focus from one arena to another, for all its geographical scope, is scarcely cinematic at all, but more like a shifting spotlight on a stage, a pool of illumination that circulates between three distinct twosomes. Although a few flashbacks combat this effect, the staginess -- the soapboxiness -- never for a moment relents. The film, really more a forum than a film ("Here we are," the truest statement the senator makes, "having a high-minded debate"), collects commonplace talk on the issues of the day, things you could hear spoken all around you, and it crams them into the mouths of tenuously connected, sketchily conceived fictional characters. Presented for the most part in a constricted face-shot style, and rather sickly in complexion for so eminent a cinematographer as Philippe Rousselot, it comes to us out of the evident conviction that we are at too critical a time in our history to be bothered with amenities such as art and artfulness, imagination and invention. (Still another indicator, like no shampoo on airplanes, that the terrorists have won.) And -- despite an A-list cast of Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, and Robert Redford, the last of whom also directed -- it logs in at several ticks under ninety minutes, as if any greater elaboration would have dangerously delayed the delivery of the message. With Andrew Garfield, Derek Luke, Michael Peña. (2007) — Duncan Shepherd
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