Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Men Who Stare At Goats

Say what you will about George Clooney but there's no doubting his bravery as an actor. His delightfully sly performance is the heart of Grant Heslov's satire The Men Who Stare At Goats, an arch curio that only comes to life in fits and starts.

Adapted from Jon Ronson's book, it's the bizarre story ('more of which is true than you know' asserts the film) of a covert army unit. So far, so Uncle Sam? Not quite, as these guys are part of a supposedly psychic outfit, the First Earth Battalion, meaning they can psychically track down souls from across the world and pass through walls.

'We're Jedi warriors' claims Clooney's Lyn Cassady, an ex-member of the unit who has been reactivated and sent into Iraq for dubious reasons. Teaming up with Ewan McGregor's sad-sack reporter Bob Wilton, the history of the Jeff Bridges-headed new age psych-army is gradually unspooled.

Sadly despite the promising set-up, Goats ends up pulling in several different directions. Is it a subtle satire on Iraq? A screwball comedy? A story of redemption? Talk about having its cake (or grass) and eating it too, the film tries to be all of them and feels disappointingly aimless as a result. Other elements such as Bridges' Dude-esque stunt casting serve to undermine it further. As for Kevin Spacey? His middle name should read 'Vindictive'.

Thank goodness then for Clooney who seems most in tune with the film's off kilter humour. Cassady is a brilliantly odd creation, dominated by melodramatic intensity and some classic comedy grandstanding (note the film's title). Perhaps what sets Clooney most apart from his fellow leading men is the ability to laugh at himself: nostalgic flashbacks to 'Lynn's golden years' as Wilton puts it, on the base, replete with floppy hair and pornstar moustache, show a real willingness to turn his debonair persona on its head. Lyn's assertion of Jedi status to Star Wars vet McGregor also provides (presumably unintentional) amusement.

It's a shame that the film itself isn't so assured, only touching the realm of the sublime in the LSD-fuelled final 10 minutes. In the end though, Goats is hardly worth bleating over.

No comments:

Post a Comment