Monday, November 9, 2009

Movie with Abe: The Men Who Stare At Goats

The Men Who Stare At Goats
Directed by Grant Heslov
Released November 6, 2009

It’s an absolutely absurd premise – psychic spies who have the power to stop the beating heart of an animal with the mere power of their minds. “The Men Who Stare At Goats” is delightfully wacky in every possible way. It’s not a serious war movie, but it’s also not an overly slapstick comic parody. These soldiers are in a division of the United States Army, operating discreetly among the troops who use real physical weapons and actionable strategies to safeguard the people of their country. It’s a wondrous experiment that produces extraordinary results and works magnificently – in its first half.

George Clooney and Ewan McGregor are the perfect actors for the lead roles in this film. They’re both likeable, charming leading men capable of shifting smoothly from drama to comedy at a moment’s notice. This film requires more of the latter in its most subdued, deadpan sarcastic form. Clooney is effortlessly appealing and quite hilarious in the way that he utters ridiculous lines with such poised seriousness as Lyn Cassady, psychic spy. The “Star Wars” prequel trilogy star is a lot of fun, and all of Cassady’s loaded references to being Jedi warriors are entertaining and don’t feel too repetitive. McGregor manages his American accent quite well and serves as the film’s guiding heart, and his curiosity about the tales that Lyn has to spin serves as a way to incorporate the audience and voice their questions about the ridiculousness of everything Lyn says.

From the beginning, the film has a monstrously strong sense of humor which makes every scene, however far-fetched, immensely amusing and really funny. So many gimmicks and scenes work terrifically, and the film gets off to a great start. It’s when the screwball characters stop taking themselves seriously that the movie falters. Such a far-fetched premise is only sustainable if there’s at least one person who doesn’t think it’s too out-there. By the middle of the film, the troop of psychic spies, led by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), operate far too goofily and can’t get anything done. The film quickly becomes uninteresting and spirals out of control.

The film’s initial highlights come from the interactions between Lyn and Bob (McGregor) and the recounting of the history of this inspired project by both of them. Flashbacks detail the development of the program and the bizarre methods it uses, and it’s fun for a while. It quickly get bogged down, however, by the young Lyn’s Anton Chigurh haircut and the need to outdo the previous scene by making each one more and more ridiculous. The duo is really having the greatest time when they’re wandering the desert trying to find their way, and sticking to the past and trying to incorporate it into the continuing storyline becomes problematic. The film gets off to a strong start that instills good feelings and positive attitudes toward the men who stare at goats, but by the film’s end, things have derailed too much to be put back together, and there’s no way that this psychic unit, or this film, can really function.


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