The Men Who Stare at Goats
Might As Well Talk Them to Death
When I first heard about this movie starring four of my favorite actors—George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey—I got excited. When I saw the hilarious trailer, I got even more excited. Finally, when I first saw the poster that included a goat’s profile along with the four actors, I was sold. Unfortunately, almost every single funny part of The Men who Stare at Goats was in the trailer. As for the goat, he doesn’t show up until the second half of the movie when it has already run out of gas.
McGregor plays journalist Bob Wilton, who stands in for author Jon Ronson, upon whose novel the movie is based. In an attempt to prove his manliness to his wife who plans to leave him, Bob travels to Kuwait hoping to find a story that will get him across the border and into Iraq. At the hotel he meets Clooney’s Lyn Cassady, a former member of the disbanded New Earth Army, a branch that was formed by Bridges’ Bill Django in an attempt to find alternative methods of fighting. Psychic fighting, if you will. They attempted to do things like remote visualization of the locations of prisoners, walking through walls, and, of course, staring at a goat until its heart stops.
This backstory is told in flashbacks while Bob and Lyn journey into Iraq on a mission to find…well, Lyn’s not very talkative about the subject. That’s about the only subject that he is not talkative about, however, as Lyn goes on and on about the New Earth Army, Bill Django, and the challenges with being a Jedi Warrior (I can’t help but wonder how much Jedi fun was had at McGregor’s expense on set).
It’s the talking that really sinks this movie. In the opening sequence, we are treated to McGregor’s voice-over which is the narration equivalent of a run-on sentence. Many people complain that voice-over narration is a lazy shortcut for filmmakers who can’t tell their story any other way and although I am generally a fan of voiceover narration, I must agree with that argument here. Too much of the story is told in the narration and not enough in the action.
The narration does ease up a little as the film moves on, but then a different problem arises when Lyn tries to explain everything. Clooney does his best, bringing out his oddball side that has previously been hit (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and miss (Burn After Reading), but the amount of exposition he tries to deliver just completely weighs down the character, and the movie in general.
Director Grant Heslov has been Clooney’s producing partner for the past few years and co-wrote on the Oscar-nominated Good Night, and Good Luck. The Men Who Stare at Goats is the first feature he has directed, but he and screenwriter Peter Straughan can’t quite turn a very interesting true story into an equally interesting movie. I did enjoy the end of the movie, but by that time I had already been put off by the journey. Great marketing, though.
The Men Who Stare at Goats is rated R for “language, some drug content and brief nudity.” To be honest, I didn’t realize this was an R rated film when I was watching it, but I’ve gotten fairly numb to language. It can’t be a very hard R.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of The Men Who Stare at Goats.