Monday, 27 September 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats - BluRay Review


What a lovely surprise this was.  The anticipated laugh out loud comedy doesn't materialise but what you get instead is a sweet little film that riffs on the Cold War paranoia of the early 1980s but lets the leads play things out in modern day Iraq.

Ewan McGregor is Bob Wilton a down on his luck American journalist who's wife has just left him for his editor.  He flies to Kuwait in a desperate attempt to get into Iraq and prove himself as a 'proper' journalist.  There he meets former army officer Lyn Cassady (George Clooney).  Bob recognises Lyn, having interviewed a member of the same Psychic Army Unit for his local paper about his, apparent, para-psychological abilities, and the two team up with Lyn slowly revealing more of his story from the 80s.

Clooney and McGregor are both great in this as the leads.  The film never dwells too much on whether any of the abilities are real and the quirkiness of Lyn is what makes it so compelling.  Bob is initially very sceptical.  Indeed many of the abilities described don't appear to actually do very much at all but Clooney does a great job of making Lyn seem utterly convinced in what he says he can do and in the flash backs it seems that Lyn is the only one in the unit (The New Earth Army) with any real psychic abilities.

Jeff Bridges plays the leader of the unit and he clearly loved hamming up every scene in the sequences from the 1980s.  Kevin Spacey plays the man who will ultimately bring The New Earth Army down, his rivalry with Lyn a lifelong one.

All four characters are brought together in Iraq, Clooney on one final mission, McGregor following him and Bridges and Spacey  now working for/running a business in an American army base called PSIC.

It does have its moments of being very funny, but for the most part the movie works better when it's playing it straight. The New Earth Army refers to its members as Jedis throughout and McGregor must have jumped at the chance to lay the gag on as thickly as possible following his turn as Obi-Wan in the Star Wars prequels.  It's wasn't until the very last line though that I actually laughed out loud.

The performance of Clooney makes this a must watch, when he's given the room to build a character, rather than playing to type, he's a joy to watch.

The trouble with the film is that although there's clearly an attempt at satire, you never quite know what the target is supposed to be and that's a pity, the performances deserve a better script.  The result is that although you've invested in the characters you're left feeling that the actual story they reside within is a pretty hollow one.

It's an enjoyable film though, you end up caring about where the leads end up and the final scene, set back in America, is worth waiting for.

Rent it.