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The Men Who Stare At Goats

The Men Who Stare At Goats

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

GEORGE Clooney exists to make good, thought-provoking and occasionally funny movies regardless of commercial appeal. An A-list star with an independent attitude, he’s a genuine risk-taker whose filmic ventures usually reap big rewards.

His latest, The Men Who Stare At Goats, is a trippy military satire that marks the feature film debut of long-time friend, co-writer and producer Grant Heslov, as well as a top-drawer cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and Ewan McGregor.

Based on Jon Ronson’s non-fiction best-seller (which means it’s truer than you think!), the film is a fun, yet knowing look into the US military’s decision to dabble into New Earth Armies with a view to creating psychic/Jedi soldiers whose mission is to bring peace rather than war.

It picks up as ambitious reporter Bob Wilton (McGregor) stumbles across the story of a lifetime when he meets Lyn Cassady (Clooney), a Special Forces operator on a mind-boggling mission in Iraq.

Cassady claims to be a former psychic soldier trained in paranormal techniques who was re-activated post-9/11… but he’s unsure what the exact nature of the mission is and so ventures into hostile territory to give it his best shot.

With Wilton in tow, the past of the New Earth Army is slowly revealed in flashback ahead of a final act reveal that offers Cassady a shot at personal redemption.

Admittedly, if you’ve seen the riotously funny trailer you may well be disappointed to find that it contains most of the film’s best gags.

But fortunately there’s still plenty to admire and enjoy in the seriously trippy tale that ensues.

The various twists and turns are neatly staged, while Heslov competently juggles shifting time-frames, multiple locations and the odd action sequence in brisk, inventive fashion.

He also draws great performances from a truly “up-for-it” cast, with Clooney underlining the versatility that continues to make him such an enigmatic performer.

His Lyn Cassady is a delusional hero of sorts… a broken man with values looking to atone for the mis-deeds of his hazy past. In bringing him to life, Clooney exudes bravado, vulnerability and a nice line in self-depracating humour that’s a million miles removed from his more familiar suave Ocean’s 11 or ER persona.

Bridges’ portrayal of New Earth expert Bill Django, meanwhile, feels like he’s sent Jeff Lebowski off to war – even though there’s a sting in the tale for him, while Spacey is clearly revelling in the opportunity to create another smarmy, seething villain of the piece… while also getting to poke some fun at the absolutely bonkers nature of the story.

McGregor may be saddled with a thick, distracting and ultimately pointless American accent, but he strikes some nice comedic sparks off Clooney too.

And British screenwriter Peter Straughan deserves praise for keeping things moving along at a cracking pace, and for managing to engage on an emotional level even when things become really surreal and strange.

The Men Who Stare At Goats is therefore an eye-opening and hugely enjoyable satire that makes for a supremely engaging cinematic trip. And you’ll also be surprised at just how much is true!

Certificate: 15
Running time: 95mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: April 19, 2010