Watching George Clooney do nearly anything for an hour and a half is worth the price of admission in my opinion (though I do wish he’d give us another romantic comedy once every so often.) And even though Ewan McGregor is the central character in The Men Who Stare at Goats, and he’s no chore to watch, George, with his scruffy beard and 80s hair in places, demands your attention. But despite loving George and enjoying Ewan, The Men Who Stare At Goats is not all that satisfying. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve pretty much seen the movie. There is not much substance to it.
Based on a “true story” (Jon Ronson’s book), the basic premise is that a reporter Bob Wilton (McGregor) whose wife has left him for his editor heads to Iraq by way of Kuwait looking for a story that might make his wife think better of him and meets Lyn Cassady (Clooney), a guy who claims to be a former member of the U.S. Army’s First Earth Battalion, a secret unit that uses all kinds of psychic powers in their effort to end war as we know it. Initially skeptical, Bob sees a story and accompanies Lyn on a secret mission and gets more than he bargained for.
There isn’t really anything wrong with the movie; it’s just that after you’ve seen it, there isn’t much to chew on. The idea that we actually had/have people trying to use psychic abilities for the army is a cool idea, but beyond killing a goat, it never really goes anywhere. You’re never really sure whether any of it is supposed to be real or not. And the character that Jeff Bridges plays, Bill Django the head of the unit, is just kind of sad. I was expecting funny, or really good political satire or something to think about, and got none of it (maybe a few laughs, but not enough). Kevin Spacey plays the evil nemesis, but even that storyline never really gets anywhere. The stories of the origins of the unit back in the 80s are told in flashback throughout, and you expect there to be a big payoff, but there isn’t one. All the actors are good, there just isn’t anything compelling about this story or these characters as it is told.
I would say see this is you are a Clooney fan like me and would pay to watch him read a phone book. This might also be a good date movie since it has a lot of guys palling around moments, though I suspect many of the roosters will be expecting Jeff Bridges to be “The Dude” and will be highly disappointed. Mostly I think it is a big waste of talent.