Hard to imagine what it was about Jon Ronson's non-fiction book ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ that inspired Clooney's pal, director Grant Heslov, to adapt the novel as a fictional black comedy for the screen, but thankfully the result is as humorous as it is surreal.
In contrast to the numerous weighty, big budget films about Iraq, such as 'In the Valley of Elah' and 'Jarhead', this independent release is a highly entertaining, gentle spoof of circumstances surrounding the war. The film is loosely based on the book and focuses on the New Earth Army, which began during the Reagan era and developed alternative torture techniques such as pressure point tactics and even over-exposure to Barney's theme tune. Taking some of the farcical characters from the book, Peter Straughan develops them in his screenplay.
Clooney plays an undercover soldier with a unique set of skills. He is part of a select group trained in paranormal spy techniques by Bridges' Vietnam vet-turned-hippie. He claims that he was not only trained to read minds and pass through buildings but as the title suggests, to kill goats, and thereby the enemy, by merely staring at them. He is on a mission to find his trainer, who he believes is being held captive in Iraq. He crosses paths with a journalist (McGregor) who, abandoned by his wife, endeavours to impress her by heading to Iraq to report on the war. Fate intervenes and merges their agendas, bringing them on a fast-paced, madcap adventure.
McGregor’s performance and dodgy American accent only highlight what a talent Clooney is. The Scottish actor's main purpose seems to be as a nod to his former alter-ego, Obi-Wan Kenobi, due to the film's many Jedi warrior references. Clooney, on the other hand, delivers a pitch perfect performance in his straight delivery of a quirky character, with flawless comic timing to boot.
Bridges is back in ‘The Big Lebowski’ mode only this time he’s more driven, spurred on by a belief in the power of psychic warfare. As with 'Swimming with Sharks', Spacey is once again good at being bad, usurping Clooney and Bridges' Jedi warriors at every turn.
This absurdist war comedy has more than a hint of the Coen brothers' humour about it. Unlike Clooney's previous army satire, David O Russell's 'Three Kings', which balanced the sublime, serious and the ridiculous, 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' is merely a light-hearted approach, advocating peace (and acid) not war.