Grant Heslov's movie The Men Who Stare At Goats is a good premise stuck in a mess of a movie. Based on a stranger-than-fiction book about paranormal research within the U.S. military, it should be a black comedy about the lengths to which our army will go to kill people. Instead, it's a collection of tonally tin-eared, quirky setpieces that strain believability and almost completely ignore the human cost of the Iraq War during which the movie is set. In particular, it pales in comparison to George Clooney's previous Middle Eastern dramedies, the brilliant Three Kings and fitfully brilliant Syriana.
The cast of Goats is a mixed bag. George Clooney is terrific playing a character convinced he's always in control, all circumstances to the contrary; Ewan McGregor is a complete zero as Clooney's straight man, a journalist unsure of what to make of all the supernatural stuff Clooney is talking about. Jeff Bridges is fantastic as the hippie founder of the Army's psychic warrior squadron; Kevin Spacey isn't nearly gleeful enough as the antagonist who subverts them to his own ends.
Heslov has many talents, many of which were on display when he cowrote, coproduced, and appeared in Good Night, and Good Luck, and was nominated for two Oscars on that movie. He's a fine actor and fine producer, along with his production partner George Clooney. Indeed, for Goats, Heslov the producer was much more impressive than Heslov the director, as evidenced by the muddled work done by a terrific cast, and the fact that the opening weekend grossed more than half the film's production budget, putting the movie well on the way to making a tidy profit.
For all its flaws, it's not a terrible movie, simply a mediocre one -- and it's already one of the highest-grossing movies ever made about the Iraq War. It avoids many of the most egregious sins of prior Iraq War movies, leaden political screeds far less interested in storytelling than preaching to the choir. This movie simply wants to be a light comedy about weirdness in the Army. Far better that it's too light than too heavy.
Crossposted at Remingtonstein.
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