Hollywood gauging U.K. reception of 'Lions'

As goodwill ambassadors for Hollywood’s political pics, Tom Cruise and Robert Redford were well cast.

The duo, hopping from London to Rome, then Berlin and Paris last week for “Lions for Lambs,” delivered star power (Cruise) and political earnestness (Redford).

As Hollywood continues to roll out a raft of political dramas in Europe, many are looking to “Lambs” as a gauge of local receptivity.

Returning to the London red carpet for the first time since he was squirted with water by pranksters two years ago, Cruise was warmly embraced on his two-hour meet-and-greet with fans at the pic’s Times BFI London Film Fest premiere. Redford’s more discreet entrance went down less well with the autograph-hunters.

At the Rome Film Fest, where “Lions” held its first press screening the next day, Redford took the lead when it came to making political statements. “We have lost lives, we’ve lost sacred freedoms, we’ve lost financial stability; we’ve lost our position of respect on the world stage,” he reflected as one of Hollywood’s longtime liberals.

Cruise kept largely above the fray, fielding questions about Scientology and the role of stars at film fests rather than making political points.

Anxious studio execs declared the two appearances a success.

“The mission … has been to get the themes and messages of the film in front of the target audience,” says Todd Huntley, Fox VP of Europe Theatrical. “Europe is a market that likes films that have something to say.”

True. But how well they say it is crucial.

While the political drama, centered around the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, won’t be released in the U.K. until Nov. 9, a few early reviews crept into the Brit press.

Daily Telegraph reviewer Sheila Johnston wrote, “There’s something to be said for promoting … values of honor, decency, doing the right thing,” but expressed reservations: ” ‘Lions for Lambs’ hopes to inspire disillusioned youngsters, especially Americans, although, curiously, it’s using its three A-list stars — of whom Cruise, 45, is the youngest — as the main selling point.”

The Times, the fest sponsor, pulled no punches in its review: “You can’t fault the anger, but the drama glows as brightly as a five-watt bulb,” wrote James Christopher.

In Italy, where the film will be released Dec. 15, early comments were generally more upbeat.

Leading Italo daily Corriere della Sera said the pic would have appealed to Joseph Mankiewicz “for the importance that it gives to the spoken word, to dialectic, and to rhetoric” and praised it as “cinema of ideas, acting, and little else. But very rich in intelligence and lucidity.”

Said Turin daily La Stampa” “(It’s) nothing new, but I wonder if this film won’t help people give some thought to these issues anyhow.”

Still, La Repubblica called it a “noble film that doesn’t reveal anything new,” and pointed out that “the lions and the lambs do a lot of talking.”

Thus far, the early raft of Hollywood pics touching on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has seen modest results in the U.K. “The Kingdom” stands at a decent $5 million since its Oct. 5 release. Angelina Jolie starrer “A Mighty Heart,” released Sept. 21, has cumed $800,000. Gavin Hood‘s Oct. 19 opener “Rendition” received mixed reviews and bowed to $1.2 million.

While Paul Haggis‘ “In the Valley of Elah,” and Brian De Palma‘s “Redacted” unspooled at last month’s Venice fest, neither has hit Italo cinemas.

And while Cruise and Redford played prominently on Italo TV newscasts as they tubthumped “Lambs,” U.S. politics still took a backseat to local politics. Italo webs mostly showed footage of the two stars parading with Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, who recently announced that he will be running to become Italy’s next prime minister.

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