Written by: Tom Hardej, Special to CC2K
Men Who Stare at Goats starts with the disclaimer: “More of this is true than you would believe,” and the movie needs that declaration, because without it’s just George Clooney with a funny mustache. The fact that some (and who knows how much really) of the film is true is what makes it ultimately worth watching, and not just some wacky, though mostly well-done, throw-away.
Written and directed by Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck collaborator, Grant Heslov, it’s the story of Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a reporter in Michigan whose wife suddenly leaves him for, apparently, a one-armed man. In his grief he decides to embed himself in Iraq, but has no way to get into the country until he meets Lyn Cassady (Clooney), a former-army man on a mission.
See it turns out in the seventies, the army tried to put together a top secret group of super-heroes, men who could use their minds, instead of actual weapons (but sometimes also using weapons) to combat the enemy. They were trained to walk through walls and make the heart of a goat stop just by staring at it (hence the title!). Lyn was the most talented member of this group, that ultimately was disbanded for hopefully obvious reasons, and now thirty years later he claims to be on a new mission that he saw in a psychic vision of his former commander, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). Wilton joins him on the mission, which takes through the deserts to not really anywhere, honestly. The movie cuts back between the history of this group and their current endeavor in Iraq.
Men Who Stare at Goats is definitely more Leatherheads than it is Good Night, and Good Luck, which is fine, I guess. We need comedies, and we probably even need comedies about Iraq. But it seems to take itself more seriously than that. It seems to think that it’s saying something about the absurdity or our army and of the war on terror. Maybe the army is absurd, and maybe the war on terror is too in its means, but this is just one small piece of much larger story, and so the commentary is a bit lost in the mess of the ridiculousness. It lacks a certain focus.
We’re grounded in reality when we see that the army was torturing it’s detainees by making them list to music from Barney all day long, since itt’s one of those strange facts that we know to be true, but it comes off like just another joke. Lyn is able to use his powers more readily while listening to classic rock—Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” evidently. Look, it’s a good song. If it comes on the radio, I won’t turn it off. But let’s face it, there are few song choices as trite as that one. It’s funny in the moment, but it also made me roll me eyes, and maybe that’s a good way to sum the movie up too. It seems to rely on a lot of obvious jokes—the supermen were told to act like Jedi warriors, and we’re supposed to and we do chuckle when McGregor asks what a Jedi warrior is—without much of a plot to even follow, just one eccentric character after another.
Ewan McGregor is ultimately fine in the role. His American accent leaves a little be desired here, but as the straight man, he does his job. George Clooney is still in madcap-Burn After Reading-mode, but it works. And the mustache is funny. Kevin Spacey plays the bad seed in the group who’s resentful of Lyn’s “skills.” He didn’t annoy me as much as he normally does though. It’s Jeff Bridges who, though, per usual, steals the show. His Django is almost a variation on the Dude, had he been a military man instead of a bowler. He’s just as good here as he always is and seems to be having fun playing the part. They all do, honestly. And it is a fun movie. The dialogue is snappy, and it is directed competently. It just doesn’t resonate as social commentary or even totally as a satire.
(That’s not to say that you won’t have “More Than a Feeling” stuck in your head for a week after leaving the theatre, though.)