I need to put this the right way, which is to say not too definitively or emphatically. But over the last two days I’ve heard from two second-hand sources (one of them having direct access to someone close to the action) that there’s concern — a moderate term that doesn’t mean panic or alarm — about the emerging shape of Robert Redford‘s Lions for Lambs (MGM/United Artists, 11.9).

It’s not so much advance-word terms like “dull” and “pedantic” — there are always people with agendas who will tell you this or that film isn’t working, particularly around this time of year — as much as a report that “an editing team has been brought in to fix it.” One of the editors is long-time veteran Paul Hirsch (Ray, Mission: Impossible, The Empire Strikes Back).

Redford is known to be exacting and methodical (polite terms for “slow”) in the cutting room, and he’s been working with highly respected editor Joe Hutshing (who won Best Editing Oscars for Born on the Fourth of July and JFK) so there’s no reason to think anything might be amiss in the skill and vision departments.

If the “fix-it” editing team info is true (I trust the source), the most likely scenario is that Cruise-Wagner and Redford are at odds over certain aspects of the film and that the UA chiefs have pulled rank. Redford is a tough hombre and doesn’t back off (a key ingredient with any strong director), but Lions for Lambs is the first picture out of the gate from United Artists and there’s a lot riding on it, especially with the heat on Cruise (who plays a right-wing Senator in Lambs) having dimin- ished over the last couple of years.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that things won’t pan out in the end. Disagreements about final refinements to a film are part of the natural creative fiction, and there’s no question that Cruise, Wagner and Redford are smart, shrewd players who know from quality.

I’ve never read Matthew Michael Carnahan‘s script — an apparently Babel-like piece about a California professor (Redford) and his influence over two students (Derek Luke, Michael Pena) and how their fates (as well as a third Redford student, played by Andrew Garfield) are affected in some way by a “bombshell story” given by a high-powered Senator (Cruise) to a seasoned Washington, D.C., journalist (Meryl Streep) — but it’s hard to imagine it not being an above-average work, given the pedigree of the players.

Lions for Lambs is going to play the AFI Film Festival on 11.1.