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Maybe Someone Was Just Bored

  • Nov 8, 2009
The Men Who Stare At Goats looks like an interesting film in and of itself.  The previews make it seem funny and enjoyable.  Almost like something ripped out of a Coen Brothers film.  And yes, there are some kooky and strange moments--and there's quite a bit of humor.  But when all is said and done, you'll walk out of the theater trying to contemplate what the movie was trying to say... if it was really trying to say anything all.  Is it intersting?  Sure.  Is it funny?  Not half as funny as you might think.


When it comes to The Men Who Stare At Goats it does look funny.  And some parts of the movie really are funny.  In truth, the film gets off to a very good start.  Ewan McGregor plays as Bob Wilton.  A reporter working for a small paper in Michigan.  He begins by learning about some bizarre story where a guy mentions something about paranormal psychic stuff going on in the military.  It all seems crazy at first--is crazy (he even writes in his little notebook about the subject he's interviewing: "You Are Crazy!") but he does move on.  A year or so later he has broken up with his girlfriend and in his devastation and highly emotional moment, he decides to go to Iraq.  Not as a soldier, of course, but as a reporter.  While he is waiting in Kuwait he meets a man named Lyn Cassady played very well by George Clooney. 

Lyn Cassady let's Bob know about a top secret government project.  Called project Jedi.  A huge chunk of the movie is backstory explaining about how Project Jedi works.  How it's about these men who learn to utilize a sort of psychic ability to be able to do certain things.  Such as locate certain things or even... well... stare at a goat and stop it's heart.  It sounds crazy.  Is crazy.  Even the characters in the movie are quick to point out this sort of thing seems crazy.  Lyn tells Bob about a man named Bill (played by Jeff Bridges) who started this sort of thing through several experiences that at best can be described as Hippie Experiences.  And yes, there is a bit about this all being peace and love and how you're to use the Earth and what it gives you rather than not.

All this seems well and good, but for a time you can't help but wonder where the film is going.  All this back story and the way it gets spliced into the main narrative is great, but when the movie finally throws in some plot it becomes quite hard to really swallow it all.  The movie slows down and becomes downright boring at some point.  We find out that the whole Project Jedi stuff has been dead for a while, but that Lyn has been reactivated and sent into Iraq on a secret mission.  The mission is not nearly as stunning or as shocking as you might think. 

There's not a lot that really holds the film up, but not much that kills it either.  You'll find yourself laughing at certain points.  And you should.  There are some moments when the movie is absolutely hilarious.  Outside of its comedy, however, it's hard to tell just what the movie is getting at.  There's a sort of, "What was the point of all this," kind of feeling about it.  You get lots of jokes and good humor but at the same time you get the feeling that the film is trying to say something.  It's never really quite clear what that something is.  We almost feel as lost as the helpless Bob Wilton does, if only because we don't know just what the film is getting at.  The backstory and such is very intersting and all the actors do a brilliant job, but that doesn't separate from the dissonance you'll feel when it's over.

It's no secret that there's a huge anti-war message here.  The flashbacks featuring Jeff Bridges as he tries to bring The First Earth Battalion shows that the most.  You definitely get the feeling your watching one hippy turn a bunch of other army guys into hippies.  For the most part there is some clever satire here.  And yes, some parts of the movie are based on events which actually happened.  Unfortunately we're left to question just which parts of the movie are based on true events and which are not.  The film is advertised as being "inspired" by a true story.  That doesn't mean it's "based off a true story."  The words "Inspired by a true story..." can mean many things, but in Hollywood those words almost never mean, "Based on a true story."  They specifically keep these two things in check.  For one, many of the events which inspired this took place during the Vietnam Era.  The flashbacks seem to touch on that a lot (but again, it's hard to guess what's true and what's ficticious... and the disclaimer before the movie doesn't help make matters any easier).  Yet these inspired events seem to be put into the common day war.  

Again, however, the big problem is that it's hard to decipher just what the hell the movie is trying to say or what it's getting at.  There's a peace and love message there, but the second half in particular is so jumbled that whatever big message the movie is carrying is lost.  The final monologue might shed some light on it by specifically telling us that now more than ever we need the Jedi.  Unfortunately with the constant use of the word Jedi you're much more likely to think of the Star Wars films and then become depressed that you're watching this and not the original Star Wars trilogy. 

Another aspect that's hard to swallow is that while the first half is amusing with its comedy the second half seems to forego the majority of it.  The moments where "The Men Who Stare At Goats" are at its worst are always in the moments where it's trying to be serious.  You'll appreciate that a lot of its dialog actually is pretty clever and witty all on its own.  Even this begins to fade over time, however.  It doesn't keep that steady stream of wit for that long. 

The movie is only around 93 minutes, but the pacing will make you feel like it's a little longer.  Especially as it slows down near the middle.  Some parts are just completely boring. 

It doesn't seem like The Men Who Stare At Goats is all that great.  And indeed it isn't, but it does have some redeeming qualities.  We talked a bit about the humor that works--and a lot of it does.  On the other hand, it should also be noted that the performances by the cast are very good.  If the story doesn't compel you maybe some of the performances might.  The characters are charming in their own way and some of the looks that you see on each characters face at certain moments are awesome.  So yes, the movie is funny.  Even when it's slowing down with the humor the movie isn't trying to be something it's not.  It's a comedy.  Plain and simple.  It's just in those moments where it's trying to say something that we become confused.

For the most part you might like The Men Who Stare At Goats.  If you're not expecting much from it, that is.  It's funny and it has some good performances but aside from that there isn't actually much to write home about when it comes to this film.  If you're looking for a laugh you might find it here.  If you're looking for substance all you're getting is a movie which pretends to have it... not a movie which actually does.

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November 19, 2009
I agree this movie wasn't as funny as it appears in the trailer, and I didn't really like the ending either. Not sure what I was expecting, but I didn't walk out the theater with a big satisfaction.
November 08, 2009
Hm. I may have to check this out. I like movies that provoke a thought. I was going to see this last night but went to see "The Fourth Kind" instead. Good review, the fact that you expressed that the film is funny yet a little puzzling as to what it wants to be interests me. I already foresee a spoof; "the man who stared at donuts" LOL
November 08, 2009
If you get a chance to see it, maybe we should discuss because currently I'm baffled by it.  I took a day or so to think about it but never came up with anything.  Perhaps I'm missing something.  And maybe I'll have to watch it again to better grasp it.
November 08, 2009
I know some movies may require 2 viewings to really appreciate it. I may get a chance to see it on Wednesday since I have the day off. Catch you later, bud.
More The Men Who Stare At Goats reviews
review by . June 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS is a film about the New Earth Army, a special forces outfit that was formed in the late 70s to become essentially "Jedi Warriors." They were to use the power of Mother Earth and their own innate psychic powers against the enemy in a new and non-traditional type of warfare and in essence change the world forever.  Now this might sound a little unbelievable to all you fans of Sargent Slaughter out there but that part of it is all true. …
Quick Tip by . July 25, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Smart, funny movie that carefully blends the comedy throughout. It is hard to believe that some of the most funny scenes are based on real events.
Quick Tip by . April 29, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Tries far too hard to be clever & quirky & just comes off as inane and weird. The acting is good, but the script & direction are weak.
review by . November 22, 2009
I missed the first 2 or 3 minutes of this movie, as I was waiting in line at the concessions stand stocking up on Popcorn for everyone who went with me to this movie. When I came back, my friend leaned over and whispered into my ear: "At the beginning they had a line that said, 'more true than you would believe.' "      They weren't lying.      The quirky title of "The Men Who Stare at Goats" fits perfectly with the quirky story and even …
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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The Men Who Stare at Goats is a 2009 comedy film by director Grant Heslov released in theaters on November 6, 2009. It is based on the book of the same title by author Jon Ronson, an account of Ronson's investigation of attempts by US military forces to use psychic powers
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Director: Grant Heslov
Genre: Comedy
Release Date: November 6, 2009
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Peter Straughan
DVD Release Date: March 23, 2010
Runtime: 94 minutes
Studio: BBC Films
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