Film Review: The Men Who Stare At Goats (15)By Kim Francis
November 04, 2009
George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Root
George Clooney’s been a busy boy. With three movies premiering at last month’s London Film Festival, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s been all work and no play for Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor. That’s, of course, if it wasn’t for the fact he’s been publicly romancing a new statuesque brunette, whisking her from red carpet to after party the world over.
The second in his trio of new flicks to go on nationwide release is The Men Who Stare at Goats, a film he co-produced with business partner and the film’s director Grant Heslov.
When reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan MacGregor) meets the eccentric Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), he is drawn into his tales of the First Earth Battalion – a segment of the US Army that specialises in investigating, harnessing and utilising New Age concepts, paranormal powers and psychological techniques in the War on Terror.
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Lyn claims to be a former soldier operating in this unit and happily allows Bob to follow him to Iraq to document the scoop.
Founder Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) has disappeared and, together, Bob and Lyn take off in search of the ageing hippy and to uncover the extent of the involvement of psychic soldier Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) in the whole scenario.
The film’s peculiar preoccupations include people passing through walls, an organisation whose members dub themselves Jedi, a psychic ability to see into the future and the ability to kill a goat using nothing more than the power of the mind.
The ludicrous premise sets the film up as a farce but if Jon Ronson, the British author of the written source material, is to be believed, events depicted in the film are truer than you would ever believe.
If ever there was a case for truth being stranger than fiction, then this movie is it.
While there’s no denying that the film lays out some interesting revelations, if you’ve seen the trailer you’re in for disappointment because it’s certainly not as funny as it would have us believe.
The overall tone is essentially one of smugness, perpetuated by and originating from George Clooney’s self-satisfied performance.
The film is irritatingly self-conscious and self-reflexive, drawing attention to itself not only in its references to Jedi when the young Obi Wan Kenobi himself is on screen but also in its eagerness to continually meditate on its own cleverness.
In fact, not only is it not as funny as it thinks it is, it’s also not as clever as it likes to imagine and consequently, it comes across as up itself and insubstantial.