The Men Who Stare At Goats (15)
Clooney. McGregor. Spacey. Bridges. Patrick. No, this isn’t a strange Oceans ‘insert number to fit the chronology’ attempt but rather an amusingly hip look at how paranoia can drive those in power to strange things and the wonderous (for us at least) outcomes it can have. Goats is a movie that finds Ewan McGregor investigating & learning about a secret psychic military unit and a specific handful of their members as he embarks on a sometimes dangerous, frequently amusing adventure through Iraq.
While McGregor narrates and takes us through the journey on offer, the movies star and focal point is psychic spy extrordinaire Lyn Cassidy, played by George Clooney in full Coen brothers ‘tache comedy mode. As the most gifted member of the New Earth Army, Cassidy has been reactivated for one last mission in the barren deserts of Iraq that McGregor’s Bob Wilton is desperate to prove himself on. Bob longs for a more exciting life, a life that amounts to more then being a small time journalist for his local town gazette and during a run of the mill puff piece with a local psychic stumbles on a quite remarkable story he thinks will take him where he wants to go, the New Earth Army.
The NEA was a secret military unit set up in the wake of Vietnam by reformed soldier and now full time hippie Commander Bill Django (played in full Dude mode by a pony tail sporting Jeff bridges) to explore non-lethal psychic alternatives to violent combat. Through their many innovative techniques, including dancing, running through walls, over hot coals, cloud bursting and killing goats through sheer concentration and will the new Jedi’s are taught to embrace a life of contented focus instead of consistent killing.
With Cassidy the star pupil and goat dispatcher, the story jumps around from past to present as he embarks on his final mission recounting everything that has brought him to this point in short, sharp little anecdotes. The story is fun and drawing for the first 30 minutes but very quickly lacks any real substance. The punch lines keep rolling and there are some genuine laugh out loud moments surrounded by countless chuckles but it needs a more disciplined form to keep it’s shape. The performances from the lead trio, as well as an excellent turn from Kevin Spacey mean that there is much to admire and the relationships between Cassidy & Wilton and Cassidy & Django are both well drawn and comfortable without really becoming punchy. I particularly enjoyed some of the quicker to and fro banter between Cassidy & Wilton and often it was the simple jibes like those about Jedi, put into context by the presence of McGregor, that I appreciated the most.
With a cast of proven actors, a fun comedy driven script and some quick draw editing you’ll find The Men Who Stare At Goats a jovial if unchallenging watch that I would recommend to anyone looking for a quick enjoyable movie that you can turn on without needing hours of consideration afterwards. It’s as forgettable as it is enjoyable although with a few quotable lines. Definitely see it if you’re a Coen brothers fan, as it has got that sort of feel in a diet variety, but don’t expect quite as cleverly a spun out story, but more a great idea executed while a little stoned.