Sunday, 8 November 2009

REVIEW: The Men Who Stare At Goats

This is the kind of movie there was a lot of about 5 or 6 years ago. Featuring an ever present voice-over, quirky larger then life black comedy with the material dealt with in a mostly restrained and deadpan way and stars taking subtle shots at their image. It's a sub-genre which is like a bastard child of the Royal Tenenbaums and Fight Club. For the most part though, I enjoy these movies, even if they are looking a little worn these days.

Journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) on the rebound from the break-up of his marriage, hightails to Iraq in hopes of regaining a sense of self. Whilst there, he runs into Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) an ex-soldier who was enlisted in something called the new earth army, in which hippie ideals were taken and militarized with the US army trying to create a squad of Psychic soldiers, who could manipulate the forces of the supernatural to their own ends. Lyn was the best of them, and together he and Bob travel across Iraq in lieu of a secret mission that only Cassady knows about. The film incorporates the New Earth Army via flashback, where as Wilton and Cassady enjoy kind of a buddy road movie in the present. There is fun to be had here, as McGregor and Clooney bounce well of each other, with Clooney giving his funniest performance in a while, whether musing on how a seemingly innocuous piece of plastic can be a multi-faceted weapon, or the Psychic power of suggestion, he is good value. I think I like Clooney best when he's not trying to win an Oscar, be it this, O brother Where art Thou or Out of Sight he seems to give his best performances when awards aren't at stake. McGregor, who can be very wooden when he wants to be, is pleasingly vital here and its a step towards erasing three Star Wars movies and Down With Love from my memory. Jeff Bridges is also terrific, playing on his Lebowski image, whilst giving a very different performance at the same time. He's a hippie, but one who wants to change things rather then sit around and get high. Its also nice to see Kevin Spacey give a good performance in a film and the last time we saw this was just too long ago.

The movie mocks its protagonists ideals, but does so lovingly in a 'they meant well' kind of way, which is certainly better then just pointing and laughing. But the film leans too heavily on its voice-over, which is neither funny or insightful enough to justify it, similarly the latter half of the movie is slightly more aimless and while what we're seeing might be true, the film doesn't sell itself well enough, particularly toward the climax which feels rushed and messy. But good performances allow for the movie's occasional structural woes.

Rating: 7/10

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