The Men Who Stare at Goats

Film, Comedy
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars
During the Bush era, it was pretty hard to make a military comedy. The armed forces tended to be presented as either noble or amoral but seldom as clowns. ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ is refreshing, then, for its knockabout approach to martial matters; its problems lie with its lackadaisical approach to narrative and structure.

The film is a dramatised version of Jon Ronson’s non-fiction book about a small pocket of the US Army given licence to experiment with non-violent and paranormal approaches to conflict resolution. American journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) arrives in Kuwait in 2003 with a broken heart and something to prove. Stumbling upon Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), whom he recognises as having been involved in the so-called First Earth Battalion, he finds himself on what could well be a wild goose- (or goat-) chase inside post-Saddam Iraq. Meanwhile, he fills us in on the battalion’s history, from its instigation by Nam vet-turned-hippy visionary Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) to its undoing by bitter psy-op Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey).

There’s plenty to enjoy in the film’s outré set-pieces, insouciant tone and playful performances: Clooney keeps us guessing about Cassady’s abilities (and sanity) and Bridges gets to deliver lines like: ‘I’m your commanding officer and I’m ordering you to let out the dance!’ There’s also a running joke about Jedi warriors that bounces nicely off McGregor’s ‘Star Wars’ pedigree. But the film hedges its claims to veracity (‘more of this is true than you would believe’, indeed) and fails to make its characters or narrative dramatically compelling. The result feels less like a transcendental breakthrough than a bit of conjuring misdirection. Fun trick, though.

By: Ben Walters



Release details

Release date:
Friday November 6 2009
90 mins

Cast and crew

Grant Heslov
Kevin Spacey
George Clooney
Jeff Bridges
Ewan McGregor
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