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MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Michigan journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) reporting in Iraq might just have the story of a lifetime when he meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who claims to be a former member of the U.S. Army's First Earth Battalion, a 1980s unit that employed paranormal powers in their missions; men who can stare a goat down till its heart stops.

Review by Louise Keller:
Like its intriguing title, this 'more of it is true than you would believe' satire about US intelligence, psychic spies, hippies and super soldiers is a trip to the wacky side. Although the narrative that lassoes the fictional with actual events does not always work, the wonderfully bizarre elements and off-the-wall characters hit their mark much of the time, offering an acutely funny and entertaining perspective to a serious topic. George Clooney, who also co-produced the film with director Grant Heslov, is the project's greatest asset as Lyn Cassady, the wide-eyed crazy psychic spy, who uses the sparkly eyes technique to play mind games not only with his adversaries, but also with goats. Yes, there is much in this film that you have to see to believe.

Peter Straughan's screenplay (based on Jon Ronson's book) cleverly structures his story by using two opposite characters in order to engage us on the journey. It's a buddy movie, a satirical comedy and a war adventure in which outlandish paranormal non-violent warfare methods (such as 'invisibility' and walking through walls) are explored. The irony of 'Jedi warriors' and being coerced 'to the dark side' is not lost on us.

One day when you least expect it, the adventure finds you, says Ewan McGregor's disillusioned journalist Bob Wilton, with whom we make our entrée to the story. The adventure finds him at a vulnerable moment and he leaps straight into the fire. McGregor is a fine protagonist and some of the best scenes are those when he meets Clooney's moustachioed Cassady, whose shifting eyes alert us to his unusual nature (or lunacy, to put it bluntly). A Jedi warrior would know how many light bulbs and power points were in a room without even looking, Cassady informs Wilton.

The key roles are carefully cast - like Jeff Bridges' long-haired hippie founder of the New Earth Army Bill Django, who is contrasted by Kevin Spacey's mean-spirited spoiler Larry Hooper. The credible and the incredible collide in the middle of the Iraq desert when those who pride themselves in 'being different' find themselves in a mixing pot of de-bleated goats, psychic energy and water laced with LSD. Tinged with terrifying truth, it's wonderfully weird and funny to boot.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's eccentric, bizarre and often funny, with its tongue firmly in its cheek as it tells the supposedly partially true story of a US army unit in the 80s which was set up to wage peace against the nation's enemies. It would do this by killing goats and other animals by mental telepathy. No, I don't know how this would help the war peace effort. The hippie army unit had a devoted commander in the shape of Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) and the use of LSD - among other things - was part of the covert plan. As the warning card at the starts says, More of this story is true than you would believe.

Well, believing the crazy stuff isn't a problem for me; I've lived long enough to know that human beings are crazy by nature and we just put a fence around most of us to keep us in some sort of order. Deep down, we're all mad as the proverbial hatter, and I have no trouble believing most of the stuff in the film as being at least grounded in reality - if that's not a contradiction in terms. The notion of cloud bursting, as demonstrated by George Clooney's Lyn Cassady - the former top gun of the unit - is a case in point. Driving through the Iraqi desert, he can blast a cloud apart with his bare eyes .... A feat as pointless as the goat trick.

Ewan McGregor plays Bob Wilton, the reporter who gets sucked into this vortex of paranormality, and delivers a likeable character whose haplessness is compounded by his naivitee. Having lost his wife to his editor boss, he's the real goat of the story, with Clooney playing his deadpan older buddy, in a mood serious enough to make us grin.

But the film is more like a series of amazing anecdotes and crazy adventures than a fully formed story. Bob Wilton's narration tries to glue it into a holistic piece, but the chaos defies it; still, there are plenty of haphazard (hazard being the operative part of the word) and freaky scenes to keep audiences willingly subjected to this credibility testing session. Kevin Spacey has a rollicking good time as a nasty sonofabitch who tends to spoil things for the Earth Army, and Stephen Lang (of Avatar's army nasty fame) does a great job as the half crazed Brigadier General Dean Hopgood.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS, THE (M)
(US, 2009)

CAST: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang, Robert Patrick, Waleed Zuaiter, Stephen Root, Glenn Morshower, Nick Offerman, Tim Griffin, Rebecca Mader

PRODUCER: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Paul Lister

DIRECTOR: Grant Heslov

SCRIPT: Peter Straughan (novel by Jon Ronson)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Elswit

EDITOR: Tatiana S. Riegel

MUSIC: Rolfe Kent

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sharon Seymour

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 4, 2010







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