The Men Who Stare at Goats has an interesting premise. It explores the US government’s attempts at countering the Soviet’s interest in psychic warfare during the cold war. How much of the story is actually true or not is left up in the air, and this is perhaps the biggest flaw I found in this otherwise entertaining film. The movie feels like an Oliver Stone movie, mixing real facts with fictional in order to tell a story and make things convenient. Therefore, its up to you whether or not it works; after watching the film you may find yourself wanting to know what actually did happen and thus you may leave a bit disappointed. However, besides the elephant-in-the-room that is Clooney’s ego, the movie is relatively funny, mellow, and otherwise interesting. It doesn’t break any boundaries nor is it really that funny. Its just interesting, and this was what drew me in more than the comedy or any of the characters.
Synopsis: Bob Wilton is a small town reporter who, fed up with problems in his personal life, decides to go to Iraq to get a story and more specifically find some sort of excitement. Unable to actually get into Iraq, he meets Lyn Cassady, a former soldier and member of the Army’s First Earth Battalion, an experimental unit that attempted to use new age principles to produce better soldiers. Wilton, somewhat familiar with the battalion, forces Cassady to take him into Iraq such that he can finally see some action and learn more about Cassady’s experiences. Cassady then explains his story, special “talents”, and also claims that he is currently on a mission. As the true nature of this “mission” unfolds, Wilton and Cassady find themselves in a peculiar position to make more of a difference in the war and even history itself…
Acting: George Clooney’s personality dominates the screen as Cassady, and if you aren’t a fan of his “character” Danny Ocean from Oceans 11, then you won’t like him here either. You may call him full of himself, but at least he is funny and entertaining. Ewan McGregor (Big Fish) plays Wilton, and although he did a decent job, he seemed out of place. He struggled with his accent at times, but his character had heart at least. Jeff Bridges (Iron Man) is here as the leader of the First Earth Battalion, and is memorable, especially in the various transformations in the character that take place through the course of the film. Along with Clooney, his personality and acting style is well suited for the tongue-in-cheek style of comedy that is prevalent here. Finally, Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) makes an appearance here as Cassady’s rival. He basically plays a role that we’ve seen him in before, and as expected does a good job; he even gets to do a little comedy. (16/25)
Script/Plot: The plot is actually short and very simple but is chopped and spaced between flashbacks that help describe the history behind the First Earth Battalion. For the most part it works well, but upon leaving the theater you get the feeling that nothing much really happened in the main story line. Indeed, for some reason the movie felt dated to me, most of all because we’ve seen all these actors play these roles before, but also because the story feels somewhat familiar; a combination of Sahara, Forest Gump, and maybe Jarhead with the tone of a Coen brothers movie. Overall, I would call it interesting and funny in a tongue-in-cheek way, rather than a unique and original laugh-out-loud comedy, which is what I think people expect of it. (18/25)
Direction: Grant Heslov essentially makes his directing debut here, borrowing liberally from other directors while making a few mistakes when he tries to be original. Like I said before, he takes the tone from a Coen brothers’ movie, the story from an Oliver Stone movie, and recycles actor’s previous roles to make them work here. Therefore, the movie works, but not because of the directorial direction. He uses voice overs throughout, and in my opinion voice overs only work nowadays in comedies that are trying to be blatantly funny, which this film fails to be. Another mistake is the absence of women throughout. Yes I know this is a movie about the army where the large majority is men, but no major female characters just seems….well confusing. (16/25)
Special Effects/Music/X-Factor: The few uses of special effects are passable, it is apparent that the majority of the budget is this movie went into paying Clooney’s bloated salary. The music is adequate, but could be used to better enhance the tone, especially when skipping between decades in the flash backs. Fans of Boston may get a kick out of this one. As far as X-Factor, this movie only has an interesting historical/current events perspective going for it. We’ve seen everything this movie has to offer before, besides its premise. (20/25)
What Kept Me Watching: A very interesting premise, the film has a heart, and the tongue-in-cheek humor lightens the mood.
What Killed It: Too much is unoriginal, including George Clooney’s massive ego taking over. It may be aggravating not knowing if what the movie is about is real or not.
Summary: Hippie soldier George Clooney does not differ much from normal George Clooney.
Final Rating: (70/100) = C-