Directed by Grant Heslow
Written by Peter Straughan, based on a book by Jon Ronson
Starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey
Running Time: 93 minutes
Released November, 2009

Although no goats were harmed in the production of THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS, the audience didn’t get off as easily. Watching it, I thought back to the movie “1941” and rumors that surfaced at the time that the entire cast and crew were under the influence. I wondered if having a good time on a movie set (drug-induced or otherwise) turns out to be bad idea. You can easily imagine this group of veteran actors intimidating a fledgling director and running off with the production. You can also see that all this “wondering” meant that the movie wasn’t holding my attention. The jokes were so broad, so lacking in wit, so repetitive in nature, it wasn’t much fun. I can enjoy a silly comedy and have done so for years, but political humor needs a more sure-footed director than this film had, a better script, a more focused point of view. If you compare it to Dr. Strangelove, for instance, it plays like a student film. Ewan McGregor in a lead role seems to be there solely to be the butt of jokes about Jedi Warriors. If he is to be the film’s sane center, he needs to have something more to do than raise his eyebrows and duck.

Plot: It is 2003 and Ann Arbor newspaper reporter (McGregor) tries to prove his manhood by embedding himself in Iraq. He is immediately pulled into the looney orbit of a member of the New Earth Army, Lyn Cassady (Clooney). Clooney persuades him that through skills learned at the hand of Bill Django, (Jeff “Lebowski” Bridges) the New Earth Army will…well, do what, I never completely understood. Most of the film examines what these skills, learned during the Vietnam Era, are. Some of them are funny and I don’t want to step on the few laughs in the film by detailing them. After a while, and I mean perhaps thirty minutes, we’ve seen the best of the humor and the plot goes completely off the tracks. At times, the film is preachy (what probably drew Clooney to it), and at times it seems to have no point of view other than, “What should we toss out there next.”

Hopefully Clooney’s next outing Up in the Air will be a goat of a different color.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.