The Men Who Stare at Goats – DVD Review

Journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) goes to Iraq with the hope of covering the war in Iraq and winning his ex wife back. Instead, he meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) who introduces him to a secret US military unit whose task is to end the war by using peace, the supernatural and the power of their minds.

The film opens by telling the audience that more of this is true than they would believe. From watching the film you might be hard pressed to accept that any of this is true, ridiculous, hilarious and madcap as it is. The film is inspired by Jon Ronson’s book of the same name, which is actually a series of interviews with actual people. Some of the characters share similar names to those in the book, some of the incidents are true, but the rest has been fictionalised in order to allow the film to exist in any other form but documentary.

While George Clooney has starred in some massively successful films, this does not seem to be part of the criteria he uses when deciding to take a part or not. Instead of basing these decisions on that his fame demands, he seems to decide to do a film on their merit. The Men Who Stare at Goats is one of those films. Although the film is based on a book of true experiences, the film itself is not and it is this that allows it to gently poke fun at its subject matter. It is in this screwball humour that Clooney flourishes. His character, Lyn Cassady, is delightfully deadpan and has touches of Clooney’s Leatherheads character, Dodge Connelly. Clooney also injects some of the quirkiness he demonstrates so well in films he has done with the Coen Brothers, and every twitch, blink and gesture seems to come from the character rather than the actor.

Ewan McGregor is enjoying something of a career revival recently. Along with The Men Who Stare At Goats; McGregor has starred in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost and opposite Jim Carrey in the sweet and touching I Love You, Philip Morris. The burden of selling this fictional story has fallen to McGregor, and Bob’s scepticism is what gives us a way into the film. We can understand this distrust as we share it ourselves. Pairing McGregor is not a decision that many would have made, but the two work exceptionally well together. It appears that McGregor has finally found the comedic voice that he touched on in Moulin Rouge.

Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges also both give exceptional performances in their relatively small roles. Bridges is back on Lebowski form and is thoroughly enjoying every moment of his cavorting, tree hugging hippie of a character. We all know Spacey is a wonderful actor, but it is easy to forget his ability for comedy, which is shown to full effect in his turn as the dark side of Jeff Bridges’ hippie soldier character.

The problem with the movie, however, is the ending. How does one find an ending for a military farce that is based on true events? The one that is settled on is enjoyable and amusing, but anti climactic.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is well worth watching. Not only is it silly, funny and entertaining, but it contains some of the finest comedy performances seen on screen in years. It may feel a little scattered, but judging by the subject matter of the film, it is easy to see why.

GS Reviewer: Brogen Hayes

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