THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: George Clooney, Jeff
Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, Robert Patrick
Director: Grant Heslov
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: See Review
Length: 94 Minutes
Release Date: March 23, 2010
“Did you just crash those computers?”
“Far f*ckin’ out.”
One of my most anticipated films of last year was The Men Who Stare at Goats, which has to be one of the greatest movie titles in history. How anticipated was I, you ask? Let me count the ways…
The cast includes a trifecta of greatness in the form of George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey, which is more than enough to sell me, no matter how weak the story is. And it’s not every day that you get a movie with such an insanely wonderful premise, and yet is based on true events. The trailer was a hoot, the marketing was most clever (with a Goat credited alongside the actors on the film’s poster) and, of course, there’s that great title.
However, the film itself is something of a tragic letdown, though I realize this may have been a result of my expectations being a little more through the roof than they should’ve been. It’s not by any means terrible, and there are quite a bit of hilarious moments to be had. But with this level of talent involved, and a premise that has the makings of a comedy classic, you simply expect a whole lot more than was delivered on screen.
The story is told from the perspective of journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), who is in need of a good story to overshadow the pain resulting from his wife leaving him for his editor. As fate would have it, Bob receives a tip about the existence of a secret group of specially trained soldiers, who fight with their minds instead of their weapons. His trail leads him to the most highly trained of these men, Lyn Cassady (Clooney).
Bob comes to discover that Lyn was part of the unit known as The New Earth Army, a section devoted to a more peace loving world and fighting by way of being a psychic warrior or, as Lyn refers to it, a Jedi. Such powers can be used for remote viewing, the ability to run through walls and, yes, killing a goat just by staring at it. I should at this point inform you that the movie opens with a title card reading, “More of this is true than you might think.”
Through Lyn’s story, we are introduced to the man who started the unit, Bill Jango (Bridges). Having survived the Vietnam War and spent some time escaping into the hippie culture, Jango resurfaced to the army a changed man and with the intent of establishing a group of soldiers with psychic abilities. Jango eventually cross paths with Lyn, who goes on to become the best soldier he trains.
It is in these flashbacks where the movie soars with hysterically entertaining moments in the spirit of a Coen Brothers comedy. When the movie cuts back to the present, with Lyn and Bob getting lost in the Middle East desert and running into all sorts of trouble, the movie loses steam. So what you end up with is a film that runs hot and cold, and the moments where it’s hot (the flashbacks) feel like they’re over and done with a little too quickly.
The film marks the directing debut of Grant Heslov, himself an actor who’s been a longtime producing partner with Clooney and also co-wrote Good Night, and Good Luck. Heslov has it in him to make a standout piece of work, since he’s worked alongside Mr. Clooney, who’s proven himself as a fantastic director. So it’s hard to say where the film’s slight faults result from his directorial choices or if Peter Straughn’s script, adapted from the book by Jon Ronson, was just a cluttered mess to begin with.
As far as the cast goes, Clooney is easily the best of the bunch here, as his goofy side plays extremely well to the material. I also enjoyed Bridges even if the character of Jango is basically a do over of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. But I did find Kevin Spacey, playing a conniving fellow psychic soldier and nemesis of Lyn, to be a little wasted here.
But the biggest surprise here is the bland performance from Ewan McGregor, mainly because I never expected to find myself saying those very words. His character was the least interesting of the bunch, but McGregor’s lack of effort in the performance made it even less interesting. And if it just so happens that his appearance here is to simply make a connection between him and the frequent use of the word “Jedi”, then it’s the un-funniest piece of irony in recent movie history.
Had lesser talent been involved, then there wouldn’t be much to complain about The Men Who Stare at Goats. But when you have a cast like this and a concept so mind-blowing and cool, what turns up on screen should be more remarkable. The movie acts like it’s the funniest thing in the world, for me the viewer…not so much.
I’ve only seen a limited number of Blu-ray releases from Anchor Bay, but I can easily say that this is the best looking release since they upgraded to the format. The sharp widescreen cinematography, courtesy of the great Robert Elswit, looks even more astonishing when transferred in 1080p. The sun-blazed Middle East setting provides an endlessly bright and detailed image, with striking colors to boot. But there is also great detail to be seen in the set pieces surrounding it. Even the darkly lit scenes appear more tremendously than you’d expect. Fantastic job!
First off, I should point out an error on the back of the packaging. It indicates that the sound mixes provided are in PCM 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1. I double checked the display on my Blu-ray player, which read Dolby TrueHD 5.1. And the sound mix works very well for this war-based comedy. Even though it’s more dialogue driven than anything else, the presentation does get some nice bonuses in the form of some physical comedic moments as well as a nice soundtrack made up of mostly 70s and 80s rock. Dialogue delivery is top notch from beginning to end, and balances out perfectly with the background surroundings.
Included are two commentary tracks; the first with director Grant Heslov and the second with author Jon Ronson, as well as two featurettes; “Goats Declassified: The Real Men of the First Earth Battalion” and “Project Hollywood: A Classified Report From the Set”. Also featured are Deleted Scenes and Character Bios.
Also included is a Bonus Disc containing a Digital Copy version for your PC/portable device.
I wanted nothing more than to love The Men Who Stare at Goats, and my extraordinarily high expectations may be to blame for why I was so disappointed in the film. It definitely has its moments, but they’re far and few between and with talent like this involved, more is to be expected.