Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang
Director: Grant Heslov
Writer(s): Peter Straughan, Jon Ronson
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Original Score: Rolfe Kent
Running Time: 93 Mins.
The Men Who Stare At Goats has huge potential, beginning with the fact that in watching the trailer I was mistaken in thinking this was the latest Coen zany comedy following in the footsteps The Big Lebowski and O, Brother Where Art Thou, starring those two film’s key players and with a tone seemingly very Lebowski-esque in its surreal representation of an almost truth. So how shocked I was to learn this has nothing to do with the Coen’s and is in fact directed by Grant Heslov (the villain from True Lies no less!) and therefore it comes as no surprise that it was deeply disappointing given the expectations.
Clooney is usually great value for money when he does zany, but here he looks quite confused, playing it straight to an extent when his character really needed a little more craziness, it concerns the apparently true story of a U.S. Army initiative setup to train a set of troops in the new-age ways of psychological warfare. This includes driving blind-folded, running through walls, and the titular killing goats by simply staring at them. Surely ripe territory for a great satirical comedy, but alas Heslov’s unsteady hand seems unsure of which way to jump. Never funny enough to be a proper comedy and nowhere near as clever as it needed to be to make some comment on warfare, it’s a film stuck very unfortunately between two stalls.
There are funny moments, mostly involving Bridges daft training sessions delivered through dance and blind-folded driving, and a lot of LSD! But linking these flashbacks is a road movie section where Clooney’s “retired” psych spy Lyn Cassady is accompanied by journalist Bob Wilton across the Iraq deserts in a search for a story on Bob’s part and something more on Lyn’s. Sadly, given Ewan McGregor is as good as he has been in a long time, the whole thing feels like a desperate attempt at trying to link all the events together in a coherent whole. It works, nothing is confusing as such, it just doesn’t work in terms of consistent entertainment and pacing.
Many well-known faces show up for a few scenes including Stephen Lang (soon to be seen in Avatar), Robert Patrick and Kevin Spacey, though none of them are given anything significant to do, Spacey is downright embarrassing in the villainous role, you half expect him to start swirling his moustache and giving a Dr. Evil style laugh. It is in sweeping gestures like this that clash with the apparent attempts to make some observation as to how absurd the whole idea was. Come the film’s close when there is an attempt at some deep message about self-worth the likelihood is that you will have stopped caring.
The Men Who Stare At Goats is a confused and deeply disappointing squandering of a potentially great idea, some amusing sight gags (mostly involving the great jeff Bridges) save it from being a total waste of time and a good performance from McGregor is always a welcome thing, but the negatives far outweigh anything good, proving trailer’s really shouldn’t promise so much…