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Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats

Nov. 6, 2009by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: A reporter (Ewan McGregor), embedded in Iraq in 2003, teams up with a former special ops soldier, Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who claims to be a highly trained psychic warrior, or "Jedi Knight". Cassady claims he's the product of a top secret training program founded by a new age Colonel (Jeff Bridges), which, among other things- gave him the ability to kill goats telepathically.

REVIEW: THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS is the perfect way to kick off my stint at the Toronto International Film Festival. It's exactly the kind of fare I hope to see here, in that it's highly entertaining, wildly unconventional, and- despite it's wacky subject matter, oddly thought provoking.

For me, George Clooney has always been hit and miss. I've never been a fan of his OCEANS movies, and I think some of his comedies, particularly INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, and LEATHERHEADS, are absolutely awful, because they try to present him in old fashioned- Cary Grant style roles that I've always found he was never quite able to pull off. He's only really effective in comedic roles when he's directed by the Coen Bros., (except CRUELTY- which is their one truly awful film). However, his work in dramas like MICHAEL CLAYTON, SYRIANA, and GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK has been nothing short of masterful.

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS really combines Clooney's strengths, as this film features him in the highly topical world of his more serious work, while adopting a comedic edge that I never really saw in him up to now. When I first saw the trailer for this, I assumed it was a Coen Bros knockoff, but this is really something different. The director, Grant Heslov (who Clooney worked with on GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK) never tries to ape the Coen's deadpan, quirky style, and creates his own world with this- almost directing it like a drama, albeit one populated by a bunch of hilariously insane people (although I should note that certain aspects of the film are supposedly based on real research conducted by the U.S Military- which is actually kind of terrifying if you think about it).

Clooney's Lyn Cassady is easily one of the best roles he`s ever had, as, for the first time, he`s able to both embrace and subvert his seemingly smooth/ macho image with this. Of course Cassady's stories (including him killing a goat with his mind, or remote viewing the location of a kidnapped spy with the help of Boston's "More Than A Feeling" and some amphetamines), are bonkers, but Clooney's so damned persuasive and charming, that we can't really blame McGregor's supposedly straight arrow journalist for believing him, and following him into Iraq.

Other than Clooney, the film also features a great supporting cast, led by Ewan McGregor. While he hasn`t done anything really noteworthy over the last few years, McGregor turns out to be an inspired choice for the cynical journalist, who teams up with Clooney's self-proclaimed Jedi Knight- in a neat little reference to his own Jedi past (STAR WARS fans will get a lot of laughs over the numerous STAR WARS jokes). As Clooney`s hippie mentor, Jeff Bridges channels his own Coen Bros., past- as he more or less re-creates The Dude from THE BIG LEBOWSKI, and he seems to be having a blast in the role. Kevin Spacey also has a neat role as Clooney's nemesis- and it`s nice to finally see him in a good film again.

My only beef with THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS is that it peters out a bit during the final act, as it seemed like the filmmakers had a hard time figuring out how to end the film. Nevertheless, I still laughed harder here than I have in a long time, and I`m actually hoping to catch another screening of it before the festival ends, if time permits. It`s probably not for everyone, but I had a great time with it, and I`m sure most of you will too.

RATING: 8.5/10

Check out Chris Bumbray's Toronto Film Fest blog at Movie Fan Central!

Source: JoBlo.com

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