Tuesday, November 10, 2009
THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS: More SPIES LIKE US Than Dr. Strangelove
THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS
(Dir. Grant Heslov, 2009)
"More of this is true than you would believe," so says a disclaimer of sorts at the beginning of this film.
Also, folks should note that it isn't "based on" it's "inspired by the book" which is another nifty indicator that this is as loosely based on real events as possible.
So in their adaptation the film makers decided to follow John Ford's advice and "print the legend" with this absurd exploration of a secret paranormal army program based on hippy New Age concepts that most likely didn't exist. "Or did it?" they want us to ask as we leave the theater, but it doesn't dig deep enough to actually bring that question to mind for the project just skates on the surface of craziness, never cracking the ice.
Not to say it isn't a worthwhile movie - it's well crafted with good performances by Ewan McGregor as a down on his luck journalist who stumbles upon these psychic spies, George Clooney as one of the top men of the unique unit who considers himself a Jedi warrior (we get to see him kill a goat with his mind - hence the title), and, best of all, Jeff Bridges as a very Dude-like intelligence officer who may have taken the zen-like philosophy of his training too far.
As an adversary Kevin Spacey has a one-note role but it's a necessary well played note that happily won't bring smug crap like K-PAX (also with Bridges) back to mind - 'cept that I just did because I'm sadistic like that.
McGregor forms an unlikely friendship with Clooney crossing the desert of Kuwait as frequent flashbacks fill in the convoluted back-story. There is a busy narrative but it's not very strong as the film seems to go in circles in its second half.
Regardless Clooney crony Heslov (he co-wrote GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK) working from Peter Straughan's adaption of Jon Ronson's 2004 book, gets a good visual vibe going with amusing Wes Anderson-style montages and swift set pieces. With stronger material, Heslov is sure to hit a home run on a future project.
Funny but not hilarious, THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS is a likable lark that won't make my best of the year list but I can see stopping on it when clicking through cable channels sometime down the line.
I bet I'll think the same then - that Clooney and Co. were shooting for DR. STRANGELOVE and they got SPIES LIKE US. They should still rejoice though for there are far worse fates.