Posted by: Dr P | September 12, 2009

The Men Who Stare at Goats

My recent foray into the pet insurance market with goatcompare.com has given me a real insight into goats and the problems they face. I was kinda hoping that this movie would further fuel my newfound passion for the lovely beasts. And did it? Read on, dear reader, read on …

Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a small town reporter whose marriage is on the rocks. Desperate to escape the horror of his failed relationship, he opts to swap it for the horror of live on the frontlines of war in Afghanistan. Having made it as far as Kuwait, he meets Lyn Cassady (an inspired George Clooney), a former special forces agent who tells him about a top secret psychic military unit – the First Earth battalion aka “the men who stare at goats”. The founder of the unit has gone missing, and Cassady is keen to locate him; he drags Wilton along for the ride.

This really is a movie of two halves. The first is a laugh out loud a minute affair, packed with tremendously oddball humour, as we discover more about the psychic spies or “jedi warriors” as Cassady calls them, and we see some of their drug-fuelled training exercises. The missing leader of the unit is Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), a complete nutcase. The interaction between Bridges and Clooney in particular is awesome, with some seriously funny moments. Bridges jumping off a house and missing the landing pads is very funny, while the interplay between Clooney and McGregor is also excellent. the scene you may have seen in the trailer, where the dup crash into the only rock in miles of desert is also extremely funny. Indeed this is Clooney’s finest big screen performance for a while – he is immensely believable in his role, and his comic timing is superb.

However, the movie was for me slightly soured by a disappointing 2nd half. We encounter Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), another former member of the psychic unit, who is actively plotting against Django and attempting to discredit him and the unit. Whilst Spacey is also excellent, the movie descends more into the conflict between the characters and less about the overall mission and understanding of what the unit really stands for. The laughs die out, and we’re left with a reasonably amusing, but ultimately unsatisfying second half.

This is one of those movies that had the potential to be truly great. It is at times reminiscent of a Coen Brothers movie, but perhaps lacking the pathos and satirical edge of their films – the acting is top-notch but the plot weakens as the movie progresses. The first half hour in particular is as funny as anything I’ve seen this year (including Zombieland, Funny People and Adventureland), but once the laughs go we’re left with a slightly hollow end to the film. Ulimately it tries to cover too much ground and attempts to be a dark comedy, a war movie, a coming of age/redemption film, social commentary, and doesn’t really excel in any department. As I said before, the acting is top notch but that’s not enough to carry the film through a muddled plot.

Worth seeing if you’ve run out of other movies to see, but slightly disappointing given the wonderful cast and promising trailer.

Memorable quotes:

Larry Hooper: Lieutenant Colonel Django used funds from the project’s black budget to procure prostitutes…
Bill Django: That’s a lie!
Larry Hooper: …and to get drugs for himself and his men.
Bill Django: That… well, the hooker thing is definitely a lie.

Lyn Cassady: [driving up behind a running prisoner yelling out the window] It’s ok we’re Americans, we’re here to help you!
Bob Wilton: [Truck shakes and rattles a little bit] What happened?
Lyn Cassady: I think I just ran him over. Oh crap.

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