From Maxim‘s exacting, occasionally contrarian but mostly big-hearted film critic Pete Hammond, Robert Redford‘s Lions for Lambs (which I saw yesterday but won’t be reviewing until 11.1) has gotten its first glowing quote. He’s calling it “an urgent, impassioned wake-up call for America, a hot-button politically incendiary work that is certain to become the most controversial and talked-about movie of 2007.”

Hammond doesn’t mean that friends and families from Vancouver to Key West are necessarily going to debate the merits over dinner starting early next month. He’s saying that right-wing commentators are going to jump all over it, which is probably true. If I were MGM, I’d be screening this film to every last Washington, D.C., conservative I could find. The film will be opening on roughly 2000 screens on 11.9.

“Current big star-laden Hollywood films rarely take the kind or risks this one does,” Hammond says. This is true — Lions for Lambs is unusual in this respect. By choosing not to push certain buttons, Redford has made, in a certain fashion, a daring film.

“It’s been over three decades since Redford made The Candidate and All The President’s Men,” Hammond concludes, “but clearly he’s still out there, using motion pictures to try and make a difference. Agree or disagree, love it or hate it, you won’t be able to turn away.”

Redford was young, very handsome, well-sculpted and blonde-haired when he starred in and produced those two landmark political films. Now he’s 70ish, slightly barrel chested, copper-haired and — I don’t mean this critically but as a mere statement of fact — diminished. And it’s just not the same equation. It’s not just the content of a political film but the look and style of it (including the man doing the talking or pitching) that matters. Everyone agrees that Al Gore had “it” in An Inconvenient Truth. I wonder if audiences will say that Redford exudes the same power and authority.

My favorite line in Lions for Lambs, spoken by Redford’s college professor character, explains the title. A German general, being more an admirer of World War II British infantrymen than their commanders, was heard to say, “Never have I seen such lions led by such lambs.” That’s George Bush and Dick Cheney for you — draft dodgers in their youth, still in the rear with the gear.

Rome is burning, son.