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Tom Cruise underplayed the politics, leaving it to Robert Redford to lash out against the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at the center of “Lions for Lambs,” for which the pair held their first presser Tuesday at the Rome Film Festival.

Redford, helmer and protag of the anti-war thriller — which world-preemed Monday as a gala in London, — came out strongly against the Bush administration, as might be expected by one of Hollywood’s longtime liberals.

“Our country has hit a point where we have lost so much,” he said. “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.”

Cruise, kept largely above the political fray, merely expressing hope that the talky multi-strand pic in which he plays a power-hungry Republican senator “will challenge and engage an audience, so that they can come out and have dialogue.”

He was more comfortable chastising Hollywood, praising Redford as someone who “really broke with the studio system and made the type of pictures he wanted to make, in the face of the studios.”

“Lions,” which Cruise shepherded under MGM’s reactivated United Artists label, reps his first release since leaving Paramount and being bruised in the media.

At the packed Rome presser Cruise seemed to writhe when asked about how he felt about being stigmatized for belonging to Scientology.

“Communication is the most important thing,” he said after long deliberation. “It’s most important to have that dialogue, to really understand one another. I think that is the only way (so) that one day we can have trust, as opposed to throwing up barriers and people being able to create stereotypes.”

He paused. “With anything, whether it’s race, religion, nationality.”

The $35 million pic, which also stars Meryl Streep, will be released in November in the UK and in December in Italy via Fox. MGM is releasing Stateside after it opens the AFI fest Nov. 1.