Wednesday, October 14, 2009

London Film Fest Day 2 - THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS - A Funny Idea In Search Of A Plot

From the producer of GOOD NIGHT, GOOD LUCK and the writer of SIXTY SIX, comes a directorial debut that is uneven, misguided and ultimately unengaging, despite occasionally very funny scenes indeed.

The film is about as convincing as Ewan MacGregor's dodgy American accent. He stars as a naive young journalist who goes to Iraq when his wife dumps him. He takes up with a strange man called Lyn (George Clooney in a "trying-to-be-goofy" moustache). Lyn used to be part of a secret US military programme that was training soldiers to use paranormal powers (mind-bending) and so become "Jedi". The title of the film comes from an experiment whereby the Jedi soldiers would try to kill a goat by staring at it. As the Jedi and his acolyte cross Iraq looking for the US Army psych-op/PR-op base, the movie periodically flashes back to the story of how this bunch of kooks got government funding and were ultimately taken down by a cynical soldier jealous of Lyn's power (Kevin Spacey.)

Now, given the sheer ridiculousness of the premise, we could have had a seriously wacky, funny movie. People might reference the Coen Brothers because of Clooney, but I could imagine Guy Ritchie in the old LOCK-STOCK days handling the voice-over and the freeze frames brilliantly. Sadly, director Grant Heslov has neither the flair nor the confidence to pull off the kind of bravado-film making needed to sell such a ludicrous (even if true) concept.

As for the modern day footage in Iraq, as I said before, Ewan MacGregor is mis-cast, while Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges are type-cast as the Antagonist and The Dude respectively. The plot seems to meander aimlessly, just like their journey in the desert. Worse still, when Heslov does try to show something serious - something that's meant to shock - like an IED explosion or incarcerated, tortured Iraqis - the scene is trivialised by the surrounding ludicrous material.

The upshot is that this is a movie that works neither as a comedy nor as a provocation about the war in Iraq.

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS played Venice and Toronto 2009. It will be released on November 6th in the USA: November 19th in the Netherlands; December 4th in the UK; December 24th in Slovenia; January 2010 in Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Norway; February 2010 in Turkey; and in March 2010 in Germany.


  1. Do you think it is worth the $9 or should I wait till it gets to DVD?

  2. Definitely one for DVD, if at all. It's not worth money, and barely worth your time. But, that said, let me know what you think!