Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Trending On Empire
The Big 2015 Movie Preview
The 50 Best Films Of 2014
Review Of The Year 2014
Subscribe To Empire!
Get 12 issues from just £25
A perfect night in with EE
Win £200 to spend on the perfect night in
Empire Blogs
Cannes Film Festival

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Venice 09: The Men Who Stare At Goats

Posted on Tuesday September 8, 2009, 12:56 by Damon Wise in Cannes Film Festival
Venice 09: The Men Who Stare At Goats

The Men Who Stare At Goats didn't fill me enthusiasm when I first heard about it. No disrespect to the book, but I didn't see how a fiction feature could be woven out of Jon Ronson's largely anecdotal history of the American military's covert experiments with psychic warfare – to be frank, I'd have been more excited about a documentary. Having seen it, however, I must admit that it does work. There are some obvious pitfalls – there's really not much of a central story, so it doesn't feel quite as emotionally satisfying a good movie should – but there are some great performances, a lot of very deft comedy and writer Peter Straughan (aided by Grant Heslov's tight direction) captures the deadpan, ironic style of Ronson's writing despite making major changes to the framework.

Ronson is not a character in the movie but his role in the book is reflected in the film in the character of Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a cuckolded, smalltown journalist whose life is thrown into disarray when his wife leaves him for his (for some reason) one-armed editor. Because he is now single, and to prove to his wife that he 's not... he's not... (he never gets round to saying what he's not), Wilton signs up to be embedded in the army so he can cover the war in Iraq. It's 2003, and Wilton only gets as far as a hotel in Kuwait City, where he watches with envy as the other reporters return from the frontline of the action. By chance, he runs into a fellow American, who claims to be working in the trash-can business. Though he calls himself Skip, the guy's ID tag says his name is Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), and Wilton recalls a conversation with a fruitcake he once met – a man who claimed to have trained with Cassady in an ultra-secret army cell, where he learned to kill with his mind. Cassady tries to deny it, but, because of a doodle that Wilton draws in his notepad, he decides to trust the reporter and takes him along on his next trip to Iraq.

Other than this thin narrative thread, the film otherwise stays pretty close to the events depicted in the book, with Wilton relating how the Americans first became obsessed with “psy ops” in the 70s and, through the fictional (I think) character of whacked-out hippie dude Bill Django, conducted some pretty far-out experiments using both New Age and ancient mystical techniques. This ought to be the weakest aspect of the film, since the best stuff is simply Wilton relaying to the viewer what Cassady is telling him, and the first hour is dominated by voiceover. But it's hard to be to put out, simply because the story being told is such enormous fun, and the cast couldn't have been better chosen. Aside from the two leads, there's Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephens Root and Lang and Robert Patrick, and there's a richness and confidence in all these turns that really makes up for the flimsiness of the plot, such as it is. Even McGregor's US accent is good, perhaps his best yet, and he makes a very good straight man in what's essentially a mismatched buddy movie.

However, and you could probably see this coming, it really is Clooney's movie, and The Men Who Stare really showcases his old-school charisma. As his comedies go, his work here is up there with O Brother, and without him, the film would have been a very different beast indeed. As it stands, it doesn't have a lot to say other than, “Hey, guys, some weird shit's been happening,” but Heslov's film doesn't set out to do anything other than entertain. There's a word in Italian I've been dying to use, and if you're planning to see this film, it applies. It's “Divertiti” and it means “Enjoy yourself”. And if you go with the flow, you most likely will.

Login or register to comment.


1 beardyphysics
Posted on Tuesday September 8, 2009, 15:41
I saw the trailer and thought this looked fantastic, something light hearted and fun. I loved george clooney in o brother and in burn after reading, he has great comic timing. The rest of the cast are also amazing, can't wait till its out here.

2 Manfrendshensindshen
Posted on Tuesday September 8, 2009, 16:08
Sounds interesting and somwhat leftfield, like The Informant!, though in both cases I'm not entirely sure all those strengths actually add up to a great film, though I wish they are.

On a different note I have to commend cinema's recent rediscovery of Stephen Lang's talents. It's great to see the man formerly known as The Nutter From The Hard Way getting fine (supporting) roles!

3 filmburner30
Posted on Wednesday September 9, 2009, 11:20
I have just seen the trailer and its looks really really good.

I second the thing about Stephen Lang what a underated actor he is.

I wonder if we will get some on set Jeff Bridges pics ,as he always has a camera handy

Log in below, or register to post comments
Remember Me:


Empire States (444)

Under The Radar (335)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (36)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


Cannes 2011: The Line-Up
By Damon Wise

Venice 09: Mr Nobody
By Damon Wise

Venice 09: A Single Man
By Damon Wise

Venice 09: Survival Of The Dead
By Damon Wise

Venice 09: The Men Who Stare At Goats
By Damon Wise

Venice 09: The Informant!
By Damon Wise

Venice 09: The Horde
By Damon Wise

Venice 09: Oliver Stone's South Of The Border
By Damon Wise

Venice 09: Capitalism, A Love Story
By Damon Wise

Venice 09: My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?
By Damon Wise


Cannes 2011: The Line-Up
"I advise everyone with dress problems to look (Www Voguebuybuy Com) It has the lat"  voguebuybuy
Read comment

Cannes 2011: The line-up
"Didn't even know Drive had been adapted. Been meaning to read it for ages. Yay"  jamesjewell1983
Read comment

Cannes 2011: The line-up
"Is there a reason why these articles cannot be shared on Facebook? Is it "  rgod
Read comment

Clint Eastwood's Changeling Is The Best Of The Festival So Far
"Test on IE"  DJH17
Read comment

Clint Eastwood's Changeling Is The Best Of The Festival So Far
"Test..."  DJH17
Read comment

Venice 09: The Bad Lieutenant!
"Just watched the film and thought it was great. Did not expect that ending that made the film so muc"  Zimbo
Read comment

Venice 09: The Bad Lieutenant!
"ian happy to read that nicholas cage is back on track. he has always been one of my favourite actors"  bellaphoenix
Read comment

Venice 09: My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?
"sounds like david lynch has directed most of the which case it should be AMAZING....ho"  FincherFan27
Read comment

Venice 09: A Single Man
"A Single Man sounds great! Knew nothing of it until now really, aside from Tom Ford being director, "  Acho
Read comment

Venice 09: Survival Of The Dead
"Is the picture from the film, or journalists struggling to get the right festival pass in the buildi"  Acho
Read comment


Picture Of The Day

Picture Of The Day

Cannes Day Eight: Basterds!

Clint Eastwood's Changeling Is The Best Of The Festival So Far

Picture Of The Day

Cannes 2008: Epilogue

Cannes Day Five: Antichrist!

Venice 09: The Road

Cannes Day Two: Tetro

Picture Of The Day

Damon Wise (298)
Helen O'Hara (181)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (21)
Owen Williams (21)
Simon Braund (6)
Nev Pierce (5)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
David Parkinson (1)
Will Lawrence (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
Ian Nathan (1)

Empire's Fast & Furious 7 Review
We run the rule on the return of Toretto, Hobbs and co

Empire Meets Alison Brie
The Get Hard star on Ken Jeong, Toto and her favourite episode of Community

17 ‘What The?’ TV Cameos From Film Directors
From Spike Jonze as a music exec to Peter Bogdanovich as… himself?

Empire Meets Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
On A Second Chance, Game Of Thrones pranks and Headhunters' poo scene

The Secrets Behind 44 Classic Cinema Sound Effects
No really, the Ringwraiths are actually plastic cups...

The 30 Greatest Superhero Movies Of All Time
Empire readers pick their top super flicks

10 Videos Every Tom Hanks Fan Should Have Watched By Now
Of course, everyone in the world is a Tom Hanks fan…

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Only £25!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 12 issues of Empire for just £25!
Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)