Review – The Men Who Stare at Goats

‘Tis the year of the movie moustache! First Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds, now George Clooney in The Men Who Stares At Goats. I love it when beautiful people put things on their face which cause you to forget just how much better than you they really are.

Of course, The Men Who Stare At Goats isn’t just a story about one person’s tireless efforts to act a bit weird and sport a badass moustache. It’s a story of one man, played by Ewan ‘annoyingly accurate American accent’ McGregor, coming to terms with loss by running away to war, only to stumble upon a crazy psychic spy (step up George you fantastically moustached bastard) who takes him on a road trip to save his old army buddy (Jeff Bridges) who told George in a dream where to find him. Or did he? More of that later. It’s also a story where “more of this is true than you would care to believe”. Or so the title at the beginning claimed.

And here in lies the crux of my problem with The Men Who Stare At Goats. Whilst the above title is a wonderfully alternative version of those dreaded words ‘Based on a true story’, it still remains nothing more than a license for the creators of this film to say “some of this is true. In fact, quite a lot of this is true. But some of it is also false. And by false I mean jazzed up for the narrative to skip along at a decent pace”.
So when that final act showdown at the hidden Army Base goes down I can’t help but feel like this might be the bit that was stuck on at the end of a rather ‘nice true story which actually kind of tailed off towards the end’ in order to make it work as a film and have everybody leave the theatre feeling semi-good inside.

I didn’t hate The Men Who Stare At Goats. It made me laugh, it made me think. Clooney is always worth the ticket price and Bridges and Kevin Spacey- himself a proud wearer of a quite impressive lip warmer- were equally excellent. I have my reservations about Ewan McGregor, I know there are good performances out there, but I remain unconvinced when he appears in something as idiosyncratic as this. But I’m biased because all I waste when I go to the cinema is time, not money (NOTE: if you do not have an Unlimited Card by now and live within 5 miles of a Cineworld you probably have a terminal illness), and I wonder whether I would have given allowances based on performance and ‘a decent soundtrack’ had I paid to watch this.

Another element to this film which bites is related to a conversation we had in the latest episode of Casta. Chris pointed out that a fault with The Fourth Kind lay in the audience’s suspension of disbelief that what was happening on screen was actually happening- in the case of that film that the video footage is real. In a similar way The Men Who Stare At Goats faces the same problem; do we believe that these soldiers actually have powers? Certainly there are scenes which prove they do, yet the main thrust of the narrative, the road trip, which is explained to us as a ‘psychic journey’, threw several road blocks in my way as to whether I thought the characters were actually being guided along their path by George’s wonderful- Jedi- mind, or by blind luck and chance. That the bulk of the psychic evidence is told to McGregor’s protagonist second-hand also caused me to doubt its plausibility.

Which is all the more reason why the very last shot of the film is so completely unbelievable, and actually ruined the film for me.

Wait for it to come out on DVD, and then borrow it off a friend.


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