The Men Who Stare at Goats

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Last night I forced on my old boots and went to see Grant Heslov’s effort The Men Who Stare At Goats.

As is the state of cinema at the moment, it was a toss up between that and Jennifer’s Body, (Diablo Cody’s teen demon script, which judging from the trailer had a liberal dose of almost-nudity and quasi-lesbo leanings) and I’m still questioning whether I made the correct choice.

The film opens with the declaration that ‘more of this is true than you’d believe’ and then follows Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a small town journalist and recent divorcee as he tries to find himself and that one big story that will impress his, now co-habiting, ex-wife. Enter one Iraq war and one Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney), ex-member of the US Army’s First Earth Battalion, an experimental regiment of strange, paranormal soldiers with unusual, and often pointless, psychic abilities.

The film starts out well enough with a couple of laugh-out-loud moments.  Clooney is on usual good form, garnering most of those laughs, but once the two main characters team up with the rest of the cast the novelty of the premise wears off as the film descends into such madness and inexplicable plot choices that even Clooney’s charm struggles to hold it all together.

What parts of the plot are true is anyone’s guess but as the viewer is taken further into the strangeness it becomes clear that that those in charge struggled with what direction to take the story and how to make the fiction as strange as the fact.

The selection of McGregor in the protagonist role is questionable. Though you get used to his American accent after a while, he seems slightly out of place among the rest of the cast, and the constant insider references to the Psychic Soldiers as “Jedi Knights” gets a bit annoying after a while.

Not that his performance is bad, far from it, but for someone who is undecided about the suitability of McGregor to carry what is essentially a mainstream Hollywood film, i think writer Peter Straughen and director Heslov fail to do justice to their choice.

The one thing that the film got right was the employment of Clooney; outré, yet believable, flawed yet charming; in fact without Clooney’s presence The Men Who Stare At Goats would most likely be a distinctly forgettable and unlikable film… as it stands, it isn’t completely without enjoyment, but it does frustrate the viewer with a sense that there is a much better film lurking in the celluloid somewhere, a film that I desperately wanted to see fight its way out.

Here’s the trailer…

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About craig shaw
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