November 7, 2009
Review - " The Men Who Stare at Goats "
(in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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I'm not sure just what writer Peter Straughan and director Grant Heslov want us to take away from their film, other than the
idea that the ways of the U.S. military are incomprehensibly strange and frequently reprehensible.
Clooney plays Lyn Cassady, who's passing as a contractor in the Middle East when U.S. reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan
McGregor) tries to use him as an entrée into the Iraq war. Cassady spins a long yarn about the First Earth Battalion, a
research team started by New Age-y officer Bill Django (aptly cast Jeff Bridges). Django wanted soldiers to use special
psionic powers to spread harmony around the globe, convincing enemies to lay down their arms.
Naturally, his flower-smelling, LSD-dropping sessions didn't go over well with traditional brass. They preferred the approach
of cynical, mean-spirited Larry Hooper (aptly cast Kevin Spacey), who wanted to “weaponize” these special soldiers and turn
them into mental killers. (The title refers to Cassady's supposed ability to stop an animal's heart by staring at it.) But is it a
yarn? Wilton begins to suspect these camouflaged Jedi Knights (as they call themselves) have settled into Iraq to do
something dastardly, possibly in the service of oil companies or war profiteers such as fast-talking Todd Nixon (Robert
The writing is haphazard at times, though the situations are funny enough in themselves to sustain our interest. The film
lacks any clear political focus or the easily identifiable good/evil division.
Even if we sympathize with Django's aims, we're likely to think he's a hopeless nut. And Wilton never comes across as a fully
rounded character, however much McGregor sweats to make him one. (We are treated to constant jokes in which the actor
who played Obi-Wan Kenobi has to ask what Jedis are and how they work. Ha, but not ha ha.)
So it's Clooney who holds this film together with his charismatic personality and inscrutable demeanor. Cassady may be
crazy, but there's enough evidence that he isn't to keep us in suspense. But when the dust settles, there's not much for the
actors to get behind. There was never much there to begin with, besides the curious fact that in the '80s, a special military
tried to teach men to kill goats by staring at them. That's weird. That's kind of interesting. That's just not enough for a movie.
“More of this is true than you would believe”,
says the opening title card. Clooney plays
his part as if all of it is as true as the law of
gravity. The point of any conspiracy theory
is not usually to convince us of its accuracy
but to unsettle our once-satisfied minds.
We're left with no answers and many
questions, and perhaps that's the point here.
However, in the end, "Men Who Stare at
Goats" is truly as pointless and absurd as
actually performing that task.
"Men Who Stare at Girls" with the aim of
telepathically getting them to take their
clothes off - Now THAT makes sense!
(I've tried it but I guess my Jedi powers
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Directed by: Grant Heslov
Starring: Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey
In The Men Who Stare at Goats, George Clooney, as one of the founding
members of a crackpot U.S. military unit, wears a mustache that makes him
look like Dennis Farina, and he does his best to act cool, calm, and collected -
which sets him in marked contrast to all the flakes and hysterics around him.
The movie is one of those over-the-top absurdist antiwar ‘’satires” that are
inevitably likened to Dr. Strangelove or Catch-22. The Men Who Stare at
Goats was directed by Grant Heslov (he worked with Clooney as a producer
on Leatherheads and Good Night, and Good Luck), but in this case ”directed”
is a charitable word.
Spinning out the tall tale of a battalion of New Age paranormal soldiers who
were trained, during Vietnam, to don cloaks of invisibility, kill goats with their
minds, and generally turn war into a groovy thing, Heslov slaps gags together
and never begins to find a point of view. Actors like Jeff Bridges (in a ponytail)
and Kevin Spacey (in the worst hairpiece of his career) jabber away as if
locked in their own private acting classes, and Ewan McGregor, as the
reporter who tags along with Clooney when the troop is revived to help fight
the war in Iraq (see, it’s a topical movie!), looks about as lost as you’ll feel.
The Men Who Stare at Goats is a magical-realist sitcom war farce that ends
up being about nothing but its own slovenly smugness.