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  Men Who Stare at Goats, The Remote Booing
Year: 2009
Director: Grant Heslov
Stars: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang, Robert Patrick, Waleed Zuaiter, Stephen Root, Glenn Morshower, Nick Offerman, Tim Griffin, Rebecca Mader, Jacob Browne, Todd La Tourrette, Brad Grunberg
Genre: Comedy, WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) was a reporter on a relatively small newspaper when he took the chance to interview Gus Lacey (Stephen Root), a man who claimed to have mastered the art of remote viewing while connected to the United States Army. Remote viewing was a form of military-approved psychic power that enabled the user to see long distances, the future, and through walls without leaving their room, and Bob was understandably sceptical. But as his marriage crumbled, he was looking for bolder challenges, and went to cover the war in Iraq in 2003 where he had a surprise in store...

That surprise being that it was all true, there really were men enlisted in the army who could use superpowers as a way of gathering intelligence - well, sort of. And The Men Who Stare at Goats was a "sort of" kind of film, where it attempted to divine humour from the facts that documentary maker and writer Jon Ronson had discovered when investigating the subject. His work was amusing in spite of the implications it held for the sanity of the military mind, which were troubling as Ronson spoke to officers and ex-officers who truly believed in their talents, no matter how much evidence there was to the contrary.

The film, on the other hand, tried to transform funny peculiar into funny ha ha, and with limited success as it simply adopted the wrong tack to bring this story to the big screen. There was enough eccentricity inherent in the source that showing them as hippy-dippy buffoons for much of the time was redundant, and for most there were very few laughs to be had from what amounted to a tepid run through of some bizarre cases. Too much was fictionalised to offer much help to the average scholar of such material, no matter how far they wished to delve into it, and what was true was presented in drily straightfaced reconstructions.

Neither of which would have illuminated audiences for a start, and for a finish came across as far too self-satisfied to truly engage. Beginning from a "look at the funny man" standpoint, it had the gall to head for a would-be feelgood ending where everyone involved in all that nasty torture and killing and stuff associated with modern warfare and intelligence gathering were absolved of their supposed sins. The soldiers recruited for the remote viewing are seen as basically idealists, head in the clouds New Agers and as such the film had problems with getting to angry at them, with the overriding tone being more "Ain't they cute?" than "What in the world were they thinking?"

There was undoubtedly a talented cast set to this tale, though they never quite got a handle on exactly what it was they were meant to be portraying, with George Clooney's agent played deadpan as if he was in a spy spoof, but Jeff Bridges' instigator of the project more of an acid casualty than a keen military mind. The overall effect was to trivialise what was a very intriguing story, as if the powers that be were endeavouring to cultivate superpowers that be, which most would have said was futile at best, then we deserved a more sober approach than what we got here. As Wilton interviews various players in this game, he has his consciousness raised to the point where he effectively becomes one of the men who stare at goats, something which notably failed to happen to Ronson, and he and his documentary team were done a disservice by this, though at least they included scenes which explained the title. Music by Rolfe Kent.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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