The Men Who Stare At Goats – Review

Staring at mediocrity is more like it

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Director: Grant Heslov
Notable Cast:
George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor

2009 may be a year of many things, but in cinema the end of the season is filled with George Clooney. Putting his voice behind the title character in stop motion film Fantastic Mr. Fox and his Oscar chances to Up in the air, Clooney has space enough on his schedule for a “wacky character” role with The Men Who Stare At Goats. And while the former two films have gotten rave early reviews as being amongst the year’s best, Goats is a solid film that will most likely be forgotten in the resume of the closest thing to Cary Grant modern cinema has.

Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a reporter who has hit an odd place in life. Wanting to embrace life, he’s ventured over to Kuwait during the Iraq war to try and get the inside scoop. There he meets Lyn Cassidy (Clooney), formerly a member of a very Special Forces unit devoted to “psychic” warfare. Led by a New Age officer (Jeff Bridges) who talked the Army into throwing money at his far-out ideas, Cassidy was a self-proclaimed “Jedi Warrior” trained in the psychic arts. As Bob and Lyn explore Iraq in an effort to find Cassidy’s kidnapped boss, Bob ends up learning a lot about himself as his newfound friendship gets wackier by the moment the longer they stay in the Middle East. This is cut with moments in Cassidy’s past, exploring the finer details of his past.

Goats ends up being a screwball comedy that suffers once the film’s third act begins. Up until the point that the film has to wind down it’s a markedly funny screwball comedy. Clooney is brilliant as a man who is sane and sensible when it comes to a farcical subject like psychic powers. He’s an actor who doesn’t tread along the beaten path and this is another example of how versatile he is. It’s a shame that this isn’t a better film, and that’s mainly because it doesn’t know how to end gracefully.

The film has some interesting moments, including McGregor making jokes involving a lack of knowledge about Star Wars considering that he was Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy. They work effectively because of his past parts and wouldn’t without it. But the problem is that the film relies on jokes like these, that are more coincidental then intentional.

Building up a wacky story, and an even screwier back story, the film’s first two acts are much more organic and disorganized then a rigorously organized and artificial finale. There’s a flow to the first 60 minutes that disappears in the film’s third act, which is nearly a complete departure from its opening two acts. The film’s comedy also is held in the first two acts as well; it’s interesting to see so many jokes hit in the opening hour and so many fail in its last 30.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is a tremendously flawed film that aims high and falls far short of the goal.


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