— by MARIUSZ ZUBROWSKI —
There have been many films about the Iraq War era, most of them about the hardships of war, but earlier this year, the limited-release film “In The Loop” decided to do something different. Combining drama and comedy elements, director Armando Iannucci concocted a surprisingly funny satire, and now this weekend, first-time director Grant Heslov is trying the same approach in his film “The Men Who Stare at Goats.”
Heslov’s long-awaited debut features an all-star cast, which includes George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey. Based on a novel by the same name, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” explores the real-life attempts by the military to harness and use psychic powers to their advantage.
Though the film has a fascinating plot and great performances by its leads, it also has a tendency to recycle the same jokes and this stalls an otherwise entertaining film.
The film starts by introducing Bob Wilton (McGregor), a small time journalist who, after losing his wife to his editor, decides to travel to Kuwait. During his stay, he meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a name that is familiar to Bob as it was mentioned during one of his interviews with a former “Jedi Warrior.”
Cassady is apparently the best of the government’s former team of psychic spies, but little does Bob know, he has been “reactivated” and must travel to Iraq. Foolishly, Wilton decides to go with Lyn, and thus begins their grand adventure, which includes a small-band of terrorists and a lot of goats.
“The Men Who Stare at Goats” follows two timelines, one of them being the present as the duo makes their way into Iraq, and the other being 20 years earlier, where we are shown Cassady’s training under Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), who after an incident in Vietnam converted to a more peace-loving way of life. Flashback sequences are boosted by the performance of Bridges as the not-so-average army commander.
Each character has their own idiosyncrasies and their own personal demons. Some of these demons are more implicit than others, but Cassady’s in particular set up some dark moments. The best thing about these characters is that McGregor, Spacey, Clooney and Bridges are all well-cast and naturally fit their roles.
The problem with the film is that director Grant Heslov uses two jokes too often. These are blatantly obvious “Star Wars” references (Jedi Warrior) and the reference to the real-life techniques that the military used that involved the drug LSD. These are sometimes annoying and deliver a damaging blow to the film. However, the movie manages to keep just enough momentum even pass these nasty speed-bumps.
For a debut motion picture, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is an ambitious attempt and is a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but it does not have a lot of lasting appeal and falls short of films like “In The Loop,” even though it does have an interesting premise and a cast that was picked with the greatest of care.
Follow It’s Just Movies on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ItsJustMovies.