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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
Cast
George Clooney
Ewan McGregor
Kevin Spacey
Jeff Bridges.
Directors
Grant Heslov.
Screenwriters
Peter Straughan.
Running Time
95 minutes

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The Men Who Stare At Goats
It’s Apocalypse Weird...


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Plot
The plot focusses on a hapless reporter who falls in with a Special Forces Agent. The agent leads said journalist into a secret operations unit, tasked with ending war by utilising the supernatural.


Review
The Men Who Stare At Goats
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In the 13 years since he traded TV soaps for the big screen, George Clooney has become Hollywood’s second-biggest attraction, kept from the top spot only by the travelling circus that is Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and their ever-growing rainbow alliance of children. But like many so-called stars of the modern age, Clooney shines — for most people — mainly in the glossy pages of gossip magazines. Though he is stalked by the paparazzi and pestered by fans on every continent, his CV doesn’t reflect his monster fame, boasting some of the most uncommercial films ever made by an A-lister. For every Ocean’s Umpteen, there are at least three financial flops, films like Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, Solaris and Leatherheads that other actors would only consider making on the way up and not once they’d a) finally got there, and b) managed to stay there.

That Clooney directed two of those films himself says a lot about his attitude to his so-called fame, and the most surprising thing about The Men Who Stare At Goats is that he didn’t do this one, too. Helmed by his Good Night, And Good Luck writer and production partner Grant Heslov, it has the same off-key battiness as Confessions, and the same modest intentions as Leatherheads. Unlike Good Night, And Good Luck, however, it is not a film to be mulled over; it is, a bit like Clooney himself, a very slippery customer, a knowing piece of entertainment that disappears before you can bring much thought to bear. Though never serious, it is always deadpan, and for those who felt his Ocean’s movies were a little too smarmy, it’s a refreshingly different shot of male goofiness, aided by a first-rate and up-for-it cast.

Squaring up against Clooney is Ewan McGregor, enjoying something of a career rebirth this year. Alongside his very funny and surprisingly touching turn opposite Jim Carrey in (the forthcoming) I Love You Phillip Morris, he’s showing signs that, after some public misfires, he has found his comedic voice. Although Clooney inevitably wins out, McGregor puts up a good fight; after all, he is our way into this movie, and if you can’t possibly see how Jon Ronson’s anecdotal book about US experiments with psychic warfare could be converted, wholesale, into a movie, you’re right — it can’t, and they haven’t tried. Instead, McGregor has the burden of selling us the fictional backbone of the film: after meeting Lyn Cassady (Clooney) in a hotel bar while covering the Iraq war from the sidelines, his journalist character, Bob Wilton, relays the contents of Ronson’s book as a series of flashbacks, gleaned from his conversations with Cassady on a road trip to Iraq.

It’s one step up from voiceover, but McGregor maintains a wide-eyed innocence that reflects the often naive tone of Ronson’s writing. But these flashbacks are the dramatic meat of the story, and the first hour of the movie is surprisingly compelling, even though the forward momentum is achieved simply by slotting snippets of Ronson’s book into the road movie format, with the goal of a destination deftly covering up the fact that not much is happening (two guys are driving along in the desert) and there’s very little in the way of subplot (all we know is that Cassady has some sort of mission waiting for him at the end of the line). It’s a tough job, but Clooney and McGregor make plausibly mismatched buddies, and a film that could have been scrappy flows surprisingly smoothly.

The first hour swims by, in this respect, because the stories of the US Army’s infatuation with ‘Psy-Ops’ are painted in broad strokes by the director and acted with an eagle-nosed heroism and seductive absurdity by a great supporting cast. From the off, we have DodgeBall’s Stephen Root as a man who claims to have killed a hamster with his mind. Then we have Stephen Lang as the officer who believes that, by asserting his iron will over matter, he’ll be able to run through walls. But the stand-out performance has to be Jeff Bridges as Bill Django, the only semi-fictional founding father of Psy-Ops, a ponytailed hippie whose attempts to bring love, peace and harmony into a world geared towards pain, death and destruction provide the film’s standout moments — his scenes with the young Cassady (“Free the dance!!!”) couldn’t be funnier.

It’s worth mentioning, too, that, like McGregor, another actor has been doing some good, different, and mostly unsung work lately. After voicing Gerty the robot in Moon and making an unexpectedly amusing cameo in the Britflick Telstar, Kevin Spacey is just terrific as Larry Hooper, the cynical Darth Vader to Django’s Luke Skywalker. And when Bridges, Clooney and Spacey are all on screen, The Men Who Stare At Goats feels most alive — like a military version of Anchorman, with a more subtle sense of stupidity — while Heslov’s bright, heightened colour palette adds the sense of an almost magical, distant summer. Such moments are as close as the film gets to a point — like the custard-pie fight that was cut from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, this is a black comedy about national security, and the ridiculous demands that paranoia will feed.

Despite its myriad minor pleasures, however, Heslov’s film is the perfect showcase for the things Clooney does best. Arguably, this is his best comedy performance since O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and it certainly comes from the same stable. Like O Brother’s Everett McGill, Lyn Cassady is a bit of a Dapper Dan, frequently in a tight spot. But where McGill was a likable fool, Cassady is more complex; like a Woody Allen superhero, he’s a mixture of the daft and the divine, and the fact that his psychic powers do often come to the fore gives this material a weird, old-fashioned Saturday Morning Serial flavour, and this is what the film relies on for the final act. Just as Superman came flying down to save the maiden tied to the train tracks, we find ourselves waiting for Cassady to swoop down and tie up all those tantalising loose ends.

Though Heslov and writer Peter Straughan try their best, however, there just isn’t a satisfactory end to this movie to be found, and the one they’ve come up with — as enjoyable as it is — is not only underwhelming, it feels like an obvious redeployment of everything we’ve seen, with a little sprinkling of sentiment that, though tongue-in-cheek, doesn’t feel right. For the most part, though, The Men Who Stare At Goats, like Inglourious Basterds before it, marks a return to the long-lost idea that there ought to be some fun in movies, and it’s a testament to George Clooney’s willingness to experiment that, at a time when he really ought to be prepping for his next Oscar, he’s up for a laugh and happy to share the fantastic time he’s having. Will it be a big hit? It’s doubtful. But even if it flops, Clooney won’t be slipping to the number three slot anytime soon.


Verdict
George Clooney dazzles and Jeff Bridges shines in a scattershot but often hilarious military farce.


Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Men Who Stare At Goats
Empire Star Rating

Wonderful film

One of the most genuinely interesting and amusing films I have seen in years. I have watched it now three times in the last few months, and it passes the quality control test of being a film that can improve with further watches. George Clooney and Jeff Bridges are simply gold in this film. I see on imdb a lot of people slate this movie. I can only imagine it's because they are Americans, and from a place when the gene pool is stagnant. Hilarious, wonderful, and uplifting film into an... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ApotheosisX at 10:05, 04 March 2013 | Report This Post


Brilliant

I loved this film! It's really funny and scary seeing as it's mostly true! I thought the ending was great and the best use of Boston's More Than a Feeling I've seen! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Andybee76 at 22:50, 31 January 2011 | Report This Post


Ermmmmmm...

Despite some great performances and a few comedic moments I found this to be underwhelming and disappointing. I really don't mind films where 'not much happens', but this feels like less than nothing happens and that it never really gets going. Think I wanted a bit more all around. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dk_psy at 14:50, 09 August 2010 | Report This Post


good cast, interesting idea, really fun in parts

although there are times when the film appears to lack some direction.... it has times when it is really funny - (such as the 'i see a tin mug' part with Kevin Spacey and George Clooney's dancing) the film, with regard to the type of humour.... reminded me a lot of 'burn after reading' and in my opinion it was a light-hearted, well presented tale. Mcgregor, Clooney, Spacey and Bridges all play their parts well and the script can barely be faltered. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by WhiteRabbit23 at 14:57, 02 July 2010 | Report This Post


RE: The Men Who Stare At Goats

I liked it! It is quite quirky and very off the cuff. Not to be taken too seriously. I think Clooney is excellent,an Oceans meets O Brother Where Art Thou turn with turned down smarm. it is a bit bizarre,but i suppose that's the appeal if you like that kind of thing! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 22:26, 25 May 2010 | Report This Post


The Men Who Stare At Goats

The men who stare at goats This is a film that is based on a true story and a funny one at that. Directed by Grant Heslov and four top Hollywood actors; George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey. George Clooney gives an outstanding performance as Lyn Cassady who claims to be part of The New Earth Army who has psychic powers that can read the enemy’s thoughts; pas through solid walls; and even kill a goat simply by staring at it. Ewan McGregor plays a reporter Bob W... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Luke B at 13:38, 25 May 2010 | Report This Post


NVG

plain...+boring..+not funny at all...+good cast...=not very good :( ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by teo at 14:19, 10 April 2010 | Report This Post


NVG

plain...+boring..+not funny at all...+good cast...=not very good :( ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by teo at 14:19, 10 April 2010 | Report This Post


Funny Bizzare True Story

The Men Who Stare At Goats is one very funny but bizzare true story with excellent pefomances from all the cast and has some genius moments. Sure, it's not meant to be taken seriously and the ending seemed a little rushed but you can't deny that it makes you laugh. There's one scene that it's just pure brilliance, I won't say what it is in case of ruining the film but look out for it and you know what I mean. It's not going to appeal to everyone but it's worth checking out. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 09:48, 29 March 2010 | Report This Post


Best comedy i've seen in ages. Was warned off this movie by someone who thought that The Hangover was "hilarious". So naturally i gravitated toward it based on the idea that if she thought this wasn't funny then i'd probably like it. My reasoning was sound as this proved to be something we don't see very often: a witty comedy with an interesting story, likeable characters and a great cast. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by strangeone at 07:46, 12 March 2010 | Report This Post


dull

Found the movie very aggravating, the characters irritating, the plot almost non-existant. Saying that, there was lots of laughter in the cinema audience, and the two people I went with were split on opion, one loving it, one hating it. So there you go, a very much based on taste movie. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nomans at 21:10, 28 November 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible

I have to say I was very disappointed by this film.   If Ewan McGregor wasn't in it, they'ed have been totally bollocksed for using Jedi jokes.   All in all I just didn't find it that funny which is a shame considering the names they had in it.   ... More

Posted by BishopQuaker at 16:19, 20 November 2009 | Report This Post


Terrible

Am I the only person that thinks this film was truly awful! It's whole premise was based on one joke (army soldiers practice Jedi mind tricks) which was just repeated again and again, with the same deadpan delivery every time. There was no story and the characters were one-note on the most part (except Ewan McGregor's, who was somehow no-note, he was the most bland protagonist I think I've ever seen on film). It was nice to see Jeff Bridges (sort-of) reprise The Dude, but what a criminal waste... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by giospurs at 22:58, 19 November 2009 | Report This Post


The Men Who Stare At Goats

Not as brilliant as I initially expected the plot, although quite good, is lacking in certain aspects and the somewhat tongue-in-cheek ending is 50/50 in terms of quality. However the headliners all give the audience a very Coen style comedy that at times is hilarious but is somewhat convoluted in terms of laugh a minute. Though I am unsure whether the gags were meant to come at a fast rate anyway. The characters are mostly well rounded and engaging but without a doubt the best on show are the h... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JJB888 at 23:48, 18 November 2009 | Report This Post


Perhaps a great film if viewed with the right audience!

I watched this film with a cinema of people who found it as funny as I did and had a great time. I put this in the clooney/coen brothers genre, where everything is just not the norm yet at the same time all the characters seem strangely in the right place. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by RustNS at 14:43, 15 November 2009 | Report This Post


RE:

The main problem with this failing so many of your expectations is that it has been marketed as an out-and-out comedy, whereas it really isn't. I found it to be a lovely little film - quirky and with a positive streak to it a mile wide. I felt uplifted at the end. Loved Jeff Bridges, Clooney, Spacey, McGregor, although Ewan McGregor's American accent was a little too Scottish to be believable. Seriously - what's not to love? I loved that this touched on some serious issues such as Mahmoud, IEDs... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JV at 09:42, 14 November 2009 | Report This Post


nice one i loved it :) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Timon_helen at 01:57, 14 November 2009 | Report This Post


Men Who Stare At Goats

Very Dissapointing film. It was one i was looking forward to see after seeing the trailers , which were very funny. Considering the talent involved , I expected much more. But it tries to hard to be quirky and be Coen -like that it loses it self up its own arse halfway through. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 20:16, 13 November 2009 | Report This Post


Men Who Stare At Goats

Very Dissapointing film. It was one i was looking forward to see after seeing the trailers , which were very funny. Considering the talent involved , I expected much more. But it tries to hard to be quirky and be Coen -like that it loses it self up its own arse halfway through. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 20:16, 13 November 2009 | Report This Post


A fun lighthearted film full of laughs - even if some of the sniggers were simply because of the Jedi references directed at Ewan 'Obi-Wan' McGregor. George Clooney and Jeff Bridges total scene stealers. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nclowe at 15:38, 13 November 2009 | Report This Post


RE: a nice heart warming film

I enjoyed it, it really only took some elements from the book and to be honest didn't go deep enough into the 'dark side' which would have made a nice counterpoint to the lighter fluffy beginning. Though for a comedy most of the laughs came from the fact that they cast Obi-Wan Kenobi and were talking about Jedi, at one point Clooney tells him he'd make a great Jedi and I tell you no lie literally everyone in the room was pissing themselves, but most of the other subtle/rammed down your thr... More

Posted by MOnkeyboy1138 at 12:26, 13 November 2009 | Report This Post


a nice heart warming film

it was nice to see a george clooney film that wasn't a dissapointment (i.e mr fox) it wasn't laugh out loud, it was a smiley film, though most of the smiling starts when clooney and bridges enter the scene, so good thing they come early. also, i didn't find the script to be as predictable as some say it is. it was predictable enough to not be ridiculously complicated (i.e Vanilla sky) and wasn't unpredictable enough to be so sappy and cheesy you wish you had no brain (i.e Mystery Men) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by maxthom at 18:57, 12 November 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Loved it!!

I haven't heard any hoo-ha in the media about that scene where the soldier loses it and starts shooting people in the barracks (ooh painful).   That's the sort of thing the Mail usually harp on about. ... More

Posted by wombathog at 12:09, 12 November 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Loved it!!

L: hampstead bandit ..watch on rental DVD? sp; Yeah, and don't expect too much! ... More

Posted by tftrman at 09:03, 12 November 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Loved it!!

I read the book a couple of years back and found it very entertaining but from reading the reviews (and understand how they took some of the ideas in the book and turned them into a film, rather than making a film of the book) I'm starting to think.. ..watch on rental DVD? ... More

Posted by hampstead bandit at 20:49, 11 November 2009 | Report This Post


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