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
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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