A professor, a journalist, a Senator, a student, and two enlisted men, who put their lives on the line, commit to their positions about the war in Afghanistan. Janine played by Meryl Strep is a reporter who interviews Senator Jasper Irving (played by Tom Cruise) about his new plan to win the war on terror. They trade barbs trying to one-up each other in the hour long interview. The military plans to take the high ground with an assault in the snowy mountains of Afghanistan before the snow thaws. At a California university (UCLA), a student Todd (played by Andrew Garfield) meets with his Professor Malley (played by Robert Redford). Professor Malley offers to give him a “B” grade if he does not do another thing to earn his grade. He offers him a second deal to him. He asks him to come to class every meeting because he is the last student he knows of since the last two, Ernest and Arian, which gave him hope for the future.
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Senator Irving and Janine talk about how Iraq is sending terrorists to Afghanistan through Iran, Iran's nuclear ambitions, combined with Iraq sending terrorists to fight in Afghanistan is what the senator calls the new “axis of evil”. Janine thinks the idea is preposterous because the Sunnis and the Shiites have fought for decades and would never cooperate in such a fashion, even against the Americans.
The military operations send a team in a helicopter. The helicopter is hit by anti-aircraft artillery. One soldier Ernest Rodriguez (played by Michael Pena) falls out of the helicopter. His friend Arian Finch (played by Derek Luke) jumps out after him. They both land in the snow, injured but alive. Their commander sends a drone to give them a visual of the scene. They see the two men and a group of Afgahnis approaching to attack them.
Professor Malley debates with Todd about the value of caring about changing the system. Todd makes a great argument for his apathy, but the professor does not accept it. The Senator argues for a new strategy to win the war. Janine argues for troop withdrawal. The Senator argues for doing whatever it takes, even if it takes ten years. He argues for the war, which must be won. His debate is not about past mistakes, but about what actions can be taken now. Janine reminds the Senator this sounds like the same logic used in Vietnam, send in less troops to engage the enemy in smaller Guerilla combat warfare. Janine reminds him he was 6-years-old at the time. The Senator convinces Janine, the media also made mistakes. In putting the American fighting men and women at risk, the media including Janine, with her forty year career, is just as culpable. The senator leaves the room for a moment. Janine takes the time to look at the photos on the wall. She sees the cover article she wrote about the Senator for Time magazine saying he is the heart of the new Republican party.
Flashback to the time when Rodriguez and Finch were both together in Professor Malley's class giving their presentation on foreign versus domestic engagement. They recommend the junior year of college should be given up for service. They end their presentation showing they have enlisted to serve their country. Even the Professor does not approve of their choice, he respects their courage. The professor is totally against it, but they have already made up their minds. They make a great case for taking action, but the professor tries his best to convince them not to risk their lives. They go anyway.
Janine confesses to the Senator, she is a pawn from the media conglomerate, which is more concerned about ratings and advertising revenues than real news. The Senator puts Janine on the spot by demanding she answer a simple yes-or-no question - does she want to win the war on terror? He dismisses her by giving her his private number on his card. Janine is very conflicted. She is not sure exactly what she heard from the Senator. Janine goes back to her publisher with the exclusive story, but she is not sure if they should release it. She thinks it is propaganda. Janine has a huge debate about the agenda of the Senator. Her publisher and Janine have a big argument. Janine argues for the ideal of journalism to reveal the truth. Her publisher tells her she will be fired if she does not cooperate.
In the mountains of Afghanistan, they two soldiers engage in a fire fight. Their commander sends in air support to bomb the insurgents to give the two men fighting chance. They fight to the end. They stand up together and fight the insurgents who shoot and kill them. The U.S. airstrike takes out all the others.
The professor tells Todd he is already a dozen decisions into his adulthood. Their time is up and the other students come in. The Professor tells Todd he will make his decision by showing up for class or not. Janine drives by the military graves of all those American soldiers lost in wars. Todd sees the news about the actions in Afghanistan mixed with silly celebrity news. Everyone is left questioning their position.
Best part of story, including ending:
This film shows how the apathy of young Americans, leads to war actions made on their behalf.
Best scene in story:
I like the scene when the two college kids, Ernesto and Adrian, stand up and give a presentation for what they believe is the right thing to do, because it is the opposite of apathy.
Opinion about the main character:
Todd is permanently changed by being challenged to examine himself and his internal motivations in light of the modern worldwide warfare with all its implications.