Sometimes, the suits in Hollywood get it right, and succeed in making a movie that actually entertains its audience. One such film is The Men Who Stare At Goats, a hilariously bizarre tale based on the novel by British journalist Jon Ronson. We begin with Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a small-town newspaper columnist whose dissatisfaction with his own marital life prompts him to travel to Iraq in order to prove himself. His goal is to get across the Iraqi border and find a story that will make him famous — but instead, Bob meets up with a strange duck by the name of Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney).
Cassidy, as it turns out, is a former member of the New Earth Army: a rather clandestine chapter of the US Army that attempts to update the archaic, animalistic ways of the Armed Forces by utilizing psychic and paranormal energies (or, hippie shit, if you will — they refer to themselves as Jedi Warriors: a remark that makes Ewan McGregor regulars chuckle even more than they normally would). As Bob travels across the desert, his new traveling companion relates how the New Earth Army was formed by his friend, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), and the how the First Earth Battalion met its fate thanks to the arrival of Larry Hooper, a scheming and trumped-up recruit (Kevin Spacey). As our story progresses, Lyn discovers that the New Earth Army may not be as dead as he thought is was, while Bob begins to find his own inner-Jedi in the process.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of The Men Who Stare At Goats is the fact that it’s not entirely a work of fiction: a great deal of the story spawns from several real-life (if little-known) aspects from the US Army’s post-Vietnam history. Granted, any film adaptation of a novel partially based on actual persons or events is bound to lose a little something between the various translations; but, in this case, the end-result is a fun and rather goofy ride for anyone who didn’t think Avatar was the most original and über-fantastic movie ever made.
Besides, any movie with Boston, Billy Squier, and Billy Idol on its soundtrack can’t be that bad!
While some High Def snobs may raise a ‘brow when they see Anchor Bay as the distributor (some of the Starz company’s Blu-ray releases haven’t been as “pure” as one would hope), rest assured that The Men Who Stare At Goats is given a most-adequate HD presentation. The film is presented in a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer, which preserves the film’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The movie’s “greener” moments shine on like a crazy diamond with bright colors and a strong contrast, while the desert-based scenes are so pure, that they almost make you want to reach out and grab a handful of sand. A little grain is present during some of the film’s dimly-lit interior moments, but overall, Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release is superb.
Accompanying the main feature is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack that is truly wonderful — and brings all of the film’s dialogue, sound effects, and kick-ass songs into your room without any hitches. Subtitle-wise, Anchor Bay’s The Men Who Stare At Goats only gives us two options: English SDH and Spanish.
The list of special features for The Men Who Stare At Goats begins with two separate audio commentaries. The first is with director Grant Heslov, who takes us on a more technical aspect of the film (discussing the cast and making-of the moving picture and so forth). The second audio commentary — this time with The Men Who Stare At Goats’ author Jon Ronson — also dives into the technical side of the pool, as well as a comparison between his novel and the finished cinematic result. Both tracks are a good listen for fans of the film, while the average viewer may not be as interested in guys talking about shooting locations.
Next up on the bonus materials roster are a handful of featurettes. “Goats Declassified: The Real Men of the First Earth Battalion” introduces audiences to the real-life men and events that inspired the story, while “Project ‘Hollywood’: A Classified Report From The Set” is your average making-of piece. Bringing up the rear are a few “Character Bios,” which are really just four different Theatrical Trailers, each honed to one specific main character in the film. Lastly is a collection of Deleted Scenes and a collection of trailers for other films. A second disc includes a Digital Copy of the film for PC users.
In short, The Men Who Stare At Goats is a very pleasurable experience; a film that succeeds in both entertaining and enlightening its specifically-targeted, jaded audience. Mainstream moviegoers, on the other hand, will probably wonder what we nerds are going on about, and why we’re constantly giggling every time someone says “Jedi.”