Lowdown: A lackluster reporter embeds himself to a supernatural warrior venturing into Iraq’s battlegrounds.
A lot of the charm sported by The Men Who Stare at Goats comes from past glory. Grant Heslov, the director of this rather eccentric flick, is perhaps best known as the baddie from True Lies; and its hero figure, portrayed by Ewan McGregor, suits the role because once again the actor is playing a Jedi. A real life Jedi this time around.
McGregor plays a small time reporter who, disappointed at his wife leaving him in favor of his one armed editor, decides to go to war: Iraq has just been invaded, and an embedded reporter’s career could make him feel useful for a change. His luck doesn’t bid him well, though, as he’s stuck in Kuwait while nobody thinks much of him as a reporter. Until, that is, McGregor meets a George Clooney playing a supernatural soldier entering Iraq on his own in some sort of a secret mission. They two end up journeying into Iraq together, and as they go through a variety of ludicrous adventures which they survive in rather miraculous fashion despite their stupidity we learn more – mostly through flashbacks – about this secret US army unit of supernatural warriors. That is, warriors capable of killing a goat just by staring at it.
In case you might not have realized it, The Men Who Stare at Goats is a comedy that takes itself seriously. Nothing in what it depicts is done with the direct intention to make you laugh, but it’s all a one big parody at the silliness of the army: the way it takes itself way too seriously, the way it wastes our tax money, and the way it protects its stupidity in a veil of secrecy. In this age of Wikileaks you could argue that The Men Who Stare at Goats is the most Assange like film out there…
The parody works well, but it still suffers along the way. Things are too disjointed, for a start, plot wise; you get things happening here and there with too many flashback in between to realize just what took place and why. Then there are the actors, who obviously had great fun making this film but make slightly too much fools of themselves to pass as serious army caricatures: I’m talking primarily about Clooney (who does the same silly performance he did in Burn After Reading) and Kevin Spacey here. Jeff Bridges does a better job portraying the Jedi superheroes unit commander, and McGregor does an excellent job at passing for a useless American despite being Scottish. My favorite, though, was Stephen Lang doing the opposite of what he did in Avatar.
While there are enough silly superhero scenes in the film worthy of acknowledgment, the best scene award goes to the Blu-ray supplemental telling us the film is based on the story of a real superhero unit established by the US army. We see genuine people from that unit telling us of their history of staring goats to death and doing so with a serious face!
Well, superheroes, if you’re that good, why didn’t you do Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein? And why is it impossible to find a single peer reviewed paper on the merits of looking goats in the eye?
It’s a good job The Men Who Stare at Goats is there to tell us stupidity like this really exists, although I’m afraid some viewers might take it at face value.
Technical assessment: The picture on this Blu-ray is nice and detailed, although too reddish/yellowish, probably to go along the Iraqi desert atmosphere. The sound is nothing special, too polite and inoffensive for its own good.
Overall: Entertaining but not as effective as it could have been. 3 out of 5 stars.