Movie Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

George Clooney in The Men Who Stare at Goats
Photo: Overture Films

If you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen the movie. In fact, choose any scene from the trailer, extend it, duplicate it and give it no real reason to exist and you have The Men Who Stare at Goats, a film that’s got plenty of laughs but nothing holding it together.

Directed by Grant Heslov, the Oscar-nominated co-writer and producer of Good Night, and Good Luck., The Men Who Stare at Goats is an adaptation of Jon Ronson’s book of the same name. I have since been told it’s only loosely based, which the film would also like us to believe as it opens saying, “More of this is true than you would believe.” Just what part is true? Who knows? How much do I believe? Perhaps the proper question there would be How much do I want to believe? The answer to that would be “very little,” which is to say the truth of the matter actually frightens me.

The film follows down-on-his-luck journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) who heads to Iraq looking for a story and finds Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) who claims to have been part of a top secret government project to create an army of soldiers with super powers, or what he calls “Jedi warriors”. Lyn says he’s on a mission and Bob jumps at the opportunity to follow him having briefly heard of the secret unit in the past. From there we head back and forth in time learning about the origins of the program and where it is today, and ultimately ending up nowhere. Perhaps that’s the joke. It’s a subtle one if it is, and while this movie isn’t terrible it just doesn’t really get the motor running as much as it feels like a series of “Saturday Night Live” skits on the same subject packed into one 95-minute feature.

Both McGregor and Clooney are in top form and a lot of fun as a pair, in roles that suit both of them perfectly. Kevin Spacey plays a rival psychic soldier who is actually more of a parody of a parody than anything else, but good for a laugh or two along the way. And Jeff Bridges plays Bill Django, the founder of the psychic soldier program, and the man Lyn still receives his orders from.

If we were to use The Men Who Stare at Goats to judge how far director Grant Heslov could go as a director I’d say we should anticipate his next feature with some enthusiasm. Considering this is his first major feature film and he is working hand-in-hand with Clooney at Smoke House there is likely to be a lot to look forward to. This just happens to be a bit of a one trick pony that will likely play far better at home on DVD than it does in theaters.