The Men Who Stare At Goats Directed by: Grant Heslov Cast: Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: R Release Date: November 6, 2009
PLOT: While searching for a good story in Iraq, Bob (McGregor), a reporter from Michigan, learns about an era in the United States Army's history that's stranger than fiction. His guide is Lyn Cassidy (Clooney), an expert “psychic spy” who has to the ability to burst clouds with only his mind. Cassidy guides Bob through a legacy about group of “warrior monks” called the New Earth Army as led by Phil Django (Bridges) and later Larry Hooper (Spacey).
WHO'S IT FOR? A silly film for the slightly mature audiences who can appreciate a wacky scenario in what is usually such a serious environment.
EXPECTATIONS: With Grant Heslov and George Clooney working together on this project, I expected this to be like their previous Good Night and Good Luck, but with a goofy story instead of one that is gravely serious. With such a cast, it was difficult not to prepare for The Men Who Stare At Goats to be a big film about something semi-silly, small yet spectacular like Charlie Wilson’s War.
ACTORS: Ewan McGregor as Bob Wilton: This news reporter only has the trait of dedication to keep him from being average, but the confusion he feels while experiencing The Men Who Stare At Goats isn’t far from own. He’s a solid embodiment of how the film’s audience is meant to feel – extremely confused and doubtful, but more than willing to see how much LSD the rabbit hole is laced with. Score: 7
George Clooney as Lyn Cassidy: Lyn is a character who takes himself and his abilities very seriously, but the audience will have a lot of difficult in doing the same. Clooney works the goofy side of charisma once again to make a very amusing oddball who brings most of the film’s laughs. Score: 8
Jeff Bridges as Phil Django: The general of the hippie-inspired New Earth Army is a good fit for Bridges, as he is able to channel some of "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski without copying himself. In comparison, this type of easy-going character is less confrontational, and is also more respectable. Deep inside the wacky agenda of a man hired to train "warrior monks" is an unmistakable intelligence. Score: 7
Kevin Spacey as Larry Hooper: Spacey returns back to the silver screen momentarily to play this proposed evil genius that’s no more intimidating than a villain from a Saturday morning cartoon. Although important to the legacy of the New Earth Army, Hooper is only seen in bits and pieces. It’s nice to see Spacey in the movies again, (other than Shrink,) but both he and his character could’ve been even greater with more screen time. Score: 6
TALKING: The film is very amused by the tongue-in-cheek humor of having McGregor play a character who doesn’t understand Star Wars, especially words like Jedi Warrior, etc. For the most part, the history of the New Earth Army is presented with visuals, and not just voice over led by Cassidy. Score: 6
SIGHTS: Movie magic has triumphant moment as the deserted regions of California, New Mexico, and Puerto Rico are successfully turned into the wonderful land of Iraq. Also according to the credits, no goats were harmed in the making of this film. Score: 5
SOUNDS: This soundtrack represents all the Dad-rock classic groups, like Billy Squier and Boston. Boston’s legendary “More than a Feeling” is given a clever touch of subtext as it is placed in this particular story that questions the potential power of our minds. Considering the free nature of this slightly adult movie, the collection of songs is quite fitting. Score: 8
BEST SCENE: Any of the boot camp sequences with the New Earth Army. Clooney and Bridges are shown with ridiculous long hair while performing crazy “psychic” tricks with a whole group of soldiers. These scenes are just funny.
ENDING: Wilton succeeds in getting the hot story he always wanted, but will anyone listen?
QUESTIONS: The basic inquiries after seeing a film based on a true story, but these are answers I'd really like to know: How much of this is true? What do those who were apart of this ordeal have to say about the events now?
REWATCHABILITY: Like a good comedy should, The Men Who Stare At Goats has the potential to be enjoyed for at least one more round.
It’s easy to imagine the eclectic likes of Spacey, Bridges, and Clooney hopping on to this project with just one glance at the thin script’s title. Each weathered thespian, all with plenty of “unique” roles under their belt from previous films, has instantly re-tuned themselves to their on-screen oddball potential. They run wild and free through the highly amusing near absurdities so rampant in the story, sometimes as crazily like beheaded chickens on LSD. (Casting is also crucial for this film in that without such familiar faces, it would not be as entertaining).
As for its actual events, the film does not choose sides concerning their truthiness. But it does agree that this unique tale of “psychic warfare” is worthy of an expansive audience, especially those who originally thought Ronson was just reporting about the Barney song being used in torture. With it's lack of confrontation and it's consistent goofy tone, it seems that the Goats is first and foremost concerned with informing us of this strange but true story, while at the same time offering a relieving lighter look at the events in the Iraqi war. The film works like an article – it informs us with some food for thought, (pot brownies, maybe) and then it’s simply over. If that is indeed the objective of The Men Who Stare At Goats, well, mission accomplished.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10