“It wasn’t the Dim Mak that was killing Lyn. And it wasn’t the cancer. He was dying of a broken heart. And maybe, the cancer as well.” – Bob Wilton, The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)
How do you possibly manage to make a film about literally nothing? That’s a genuine question I want you to keep in your mind throughout my review. Because the thing about The Men Who Stare At Goats is that it is a film that amounts to nothing. There is nothing to see within this film that will create a lasting impression on anyone’s mind. I’ve started this review five minutes after I finished watching the film, I’ve literally no clue what happened. Still, I’m sure I can make some sense of what I just watched, and that’s what I’m going to try and do.
The film follows Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a struggling journalist who travels to Afghanistan in the hopes of picking up his next story. There he meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) who claims to be a part of “The New Earth Army”. The two travel to Iraq together in the hopes of finding Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), the former leader of “The New Earth Army”. Together they flourish and work as a team and come across a whole variety of new characters including Kevin Spacey and Nick Offerman.
You’re probably wondering why I was so vague in that description of the plot. That’s not by intention, that’s literally all the film has going for it. I mean, I sat and watched it, nothing in the film in regards to the plot actually amounts to anything of any substance. But that’s not too much of a problem, right? I mean surely there are other parts of this film that hold up. Like I say, the comedy should come first, and I’m fairly sure this is a comedy film. I say fairly certain because after watching this I don’t really think you can call it that.
The plot for me was just boring, there’s no other word to really describe it. A few times throughout I really didn’t know what was going on and got either bored or distracted. I mean, at least I made it to the end of the film, right? One minute we’re watching Bob and Lyn being captured, the next they’re meeting up with the rest of the gang. To make the plot work a bit better, it’s spliced with flashbacks to the original training programme for “The New Earth Army”. Some of these bits are fairly funny, others are most certainly not funny. Still, I can’t fault it that much, that is where we come across Nick Offerman’s brief scenes.
Comedies are supposed to be funny, right? Because if they’re meant to be funny then The Men Who Stare At Goats definitely misses the mark more than once in it’s runtime. You’d be surprised to learn that this film does start out rather positively. When Bob meets Gus the Psychic in the opening part of the film, that is fairly funny. But from there the laughs seem to diminish entirely and the rest of the film can barely get more than a chuckle. Don’t get me wrong, some of the later scenes are funny, but it never amounts to anything. They’re one off jokes rather than jokes that can be inserted into the narrative.
A big bulk of the jokes are that the psychic soldiers are known as “Jedi’s”. This wouldn’t be very funny until you realise Ewan McGregor was in those really, really, good Star Wars prequel films. You know, the three films that everyone adores because of just how ruddy good they are. Actually for the record Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones (2002) was decent. That’s not the point though, McGregor’s character doesn’t have a clue what “Jedi’s” are and apparently that’s hilarious. Me? I didn’t think it was very funny. It was a very obvious reference at a bigger franchise that could have worked if it was a one time thing. This joke was most certainly not a one time thing.
At least the cast are all in the right places. I should say though there isn’t really a clear villain at any point in this film. Kevin Spacey is the closest you’re going to get to that. He does play villains quite well doesn’t he. He’s been cropping up in a lot of my films recently, with my last review See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), he played a villain too. In my opinion he does play the villainous role quite well, and he does his best in The Men Who Stare At Goats. He can only do so much though, everyone is pretty much hindered in some way throughout this film.
As for the rest of the cast, yeah, they’re fine. Clooney and McGregor have some definite chemistry throughout. For me, Bridges is the only one who sticks out as miscast. That’s not to say he’s bad in this film, he’s great. But to me he’s just playing a discount Kurt Russell and that’s a real shame. Still, it could have been a lot worse. None of the acting in this film is bad whatsoever. There’s a lot of parts they deliver perfectly, but it’s down to the crummy writing in regards to why it doesn’t work. It’s not that it’s even crummy really, it’s just extremely hit or miss. Most of the time it’s a miss, but when it does hit it’s not actually all that bad if I’m honest.
Luckily though there is a really good soundtrack throughout. This is probably thanks to both Boston’s “More than a Feeling” and Supergrass “Alright” which are two brilliant songs. I’ve never been happier to see opening and closing credits than during this film. But apart from those two songs that aren’t used throughout the film, there’s nothing else. I just felt like I had to say at least something positive about this film, otherwise it really would have been a waste of time.
After reading all of that through to myself, it’s surprising how much I disliked this film. The first twenty minutes or so were in fact very good, so I’m not sure what was preventing me from enjoying the rest of it. Maybe there’s some part of this film that just didn’t sit well with me and from then on I couldn’t enjoy it. If I’m honest it’s quite a boring film, the narrative they try and tell is quite simply boring. What reason have I got for caring about the events of this film? Is it actually based on a true story or not? As far as I can tell, no, it’s not. But at the same time apparently it is, I can’t make heads or tails of it if I’m honest.
Still, what follows is a barebones mess of a comedy film that doesn’t try hard enough. The cast is all there in the right places, it’s an exceptional ensemble. However when you have an ensemble cast that doesn’t always mean your film is going to be a success. The Men Who Stare At Goats is pretty much proof of that. It has a very likeable cast but a script that seems to have been written by someone who didn’t really care. The acting is fine, but if they were all given a better script to work with then by all means this would have been a much better film.