There is great comedic value in seeing Ewan McGreggor, who of course played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels, sit in a hotel and ask, “What is a Jedi Warrior? I don’t know what that means.”
That’s funny, but Men Who Stare at Goats does not capitalize on the opportunity. Maybe screenwriter Peter Straughan did not know who was being cast, or maybe there was fear that people in the audience would not make the connection to the sci-fi series.
Regardless of the circumstances, the entire of the film feels like a missed opportunity. For every working gag, the movie makes a spin into the realm of seriousness that never fits. This is a bizarre story, stuck in a traditionally framed film.
What we learn from Goats is the same as the non-fiction book it was based on. The government actively researched psychic soldiers back in the ‘70s, recruiting soldiers for the New Earth Battalion, some of whom would (believe it or not) stare at goats in an attempt to stop the animals hearts using their mental powers.
The mere thought of sending soldiers onto a battlefield and staring at the enemy to wipe them out is hilarious. Unfortunately, the movie never seems to take advantage of the sheer ridiculousness of the scenario. As we learn though, neither did the mainstream media, putting the best gag at the end of the film when reporter Bob Wilton (McGreggor) discovers how his investigation was publicized.
Goats structures its story into two parts, one in which Wilton is conducting his interviews with Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) and in the past where the New Earth Battalion is beginning their routines. The latter offers laughs at the expense of those who thought this was worth pursuing, while the modern story involving the war in Iraq seems included purely to make the story relevant to the current generation.
The latter has moments, the quirky Clooney character slightly off the hinges as he recounts his experiences. That is also funny, but sporadically so. It far more entertaining trying to watch McGreggor figure out what a Jedi is, or maybe that is just the geek inside who saw potential in a different style of movie.
Men Who Stare at Goats opens on a close-up, one with excellently defined facial texture. Much of the film caries this same quality, providing delineated pores, beads of sweat, and stray dirt. Even in darker scenes, such as those in dimly lit hotel rooms or during the imprisonment scene, the film carries its strong ability for detail.
Unfortunately, there are those scenes that fall flat. Certain ones bring out the orange in the flesh tones, and the smooth, unnatural quality that is a distraction. For some reason, Kevin Spacey seems to get the worst of it. Even in the same scene where he is sitting with other actors, those with the same level of high fidelity detail, his face is completely lacking texture.
Environments, especially the expansive desert, are exceptional. The first shot of Kuwait, with McGreggor admiring the skyline, is impressive. Deep black levels are maintained well, with a hint of murkiness in the darkest areas. A slight hint of crush inside Stephen Root’s home during the hamster video session is noted as well.
There is also an issue with off-color edge enhancement, notable early. The first shot of McGreggor’s home shows a greenish halo around the roof. This continues for most of the first half hour or so, slowly turning into general high contrast ringing. Oddly, the end credits also appear off, with a green and purple haze to them.
Anchor Bay’s TrueHD effort is surprisingly full and rich. The soundtrack fills the soundfield beautifully, with clarity and rear bleed. Gunfire, especially during a Vietnam flashback, is fantastic. Not only does it offer the expected surround split, but a crisp high end that is free of distortion.
Well utilized fronts capture the movement of vehicles and some other sporadic audio where needed. While bass remains non-existent for much of the film (save for a bomb explosion late), this track does everything else right. Dialogue is properly prioritized, and balanced with the few heavier action scenes. Surrounds are engaged when need be, including light ambiance, and necessary aggressiveness during a shoot out in the middle of a city.
Two commentaries might have been better off combined, joining director Grant Heslov and book author Jon Ronson. Instead, they offer their separate views with their own perspective. Goats Declassified is a look at the real men behind the New Earth Battalion, but feels condensed at only 12:29.
Project Hollywood is your general making-of with a promotional slant, although nowhere near as bad as the five minutes of character bios. Deleted scenes run a little over four minutes, followed by a string of trailers.
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