Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats

We hadn’t seen a movie in awhile and this one caught my eye a few weeks ago when I first saw the advertisements. It’s actually based on a book by Jon Ronson about how the U.S. military so wisely spent our tax dollars investigating “alternative methods” of fighting other nations, including mind control, trying to pass through walls, and making another living being’s heart stop by staring at them (e.g. a goat). Ronson was on The Daily Show awhile back talking about his 2004 book, so I’d already been exposed to this crazy idea: then they made it into a movie. Keep in mind that the movie is based on concepts from the book, so parts of the movie are factually-based, but then there are large parts that aren’t.

The Men Who Stare at Goats stars quite a few heavy hitters, including George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey, so on paper, the movie is already off to a good start. It centers around a news reporter (McGregor) that is trying to “make it” in the business by going to Iraq during the most recent Iraq War. Part-way through his journey, he comes across Clooney’s character, Lyn Cassady, who promptly tells him of a secret government program beginning in Vietnam that tried to make super soldiers, not through any genetic engineering, but through trying to get them to learn mind control techniques, amongst other things. Obviously, McGregor finds this difficult to believe in the beginning, but as the 1.5 hour long movie progresses, he begins to question the reality he knows.

I highlight “1.5 hours long” because that was a pretty good length, and I’m glad it wasn’t any longer. By the time they hit the last 30 minutes of the movie, it was getting harder to follow, and just generally more convoluted. Actually, a good 20-30 minutes of the movie really dealt with how McGregor and Clooney get into Iraq in the first place, and while it does introduce McGregor’s character to the concepts of this shadowy military troop, it doesn’t really end up being that pertinent to the story. So yes, I think “convoluted” is a pretty good word to describe this movie.

The movie is pretty funny, for the most part, but really mostly in a “chuckle” sort of way, rather than a “laugh out loud” manner. I guess I would say it’s more “amusing” than “funny,” in all honesty, and I was hoping for the film to err more on the side of the latter. In either case, it was still pretty entertaining. Certainly, the acting was as good as you’d expect from these actors, but I would have liked to see more out of Kevin Spacey. He did well for what he was given, but paying a high-profile actor like him to play this relatively minor role (compared to the other three) may have been a touch excessive.

I will say, however, that the movie did score hella points with me by playing up the fact that the military, apparently, experimented with using the “I Love You, You Love Me” song from Barney & Friends as a torture device against terrorists. I’ve always said that’d be a good idea.

In short, I liked the movie and thought it was an entertaining and amusing way to spend an evening, but I could have waited to rent it. At the very least, it makes you wonder where your tax dollars are going…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *