‘Men Who Stare’ receives mild applause

By David Orlikoff

There’s a saying in cinema that the best screenplays don’t make the best films.  Some directors, like Werner Herzog, are famous for improvising scenes and still others discover their films during editing.

Audiences complain when a film adaptation isn’t faithful to the source material, but often too much fidelity is claustrophobic. Grant Heslov was praised for his writing in the 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck, but as director his debut feature The Men Who Stare at Goats lacks vision.

Ewan McGregor stars as journalist Bob Wilton who meets former soldier Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) while reporting on the war in Iraq. Cassady tells Wilton he was part of a group of psychic Jedi warriors called the New Earth Army and that he has a new mission decades later in Iraq. Wilton follows Cassady for the story, and hijinks ensue.

The film should be very funny, but largely fails to capitalize on the source material and the real world truths outlined in the 2004 book of the same name.

Perhaps it is too faithful, succeeding only in normalizing the ridiculous programs and tactics of the army when it should be offering them up as comedic gold. It’s not deadpan, but quiet reverence which often stops the laughter.

The film functions as a children’s story for adults. It has the same predictable pandering structure and gutless examination of the supernatural, culminating in a cop-out ending best left for Miracle on 34th Street.

Even without fully understanding its own comedic value, the film is very funny. Sadly, all the best jokes are in the trailer, leaving audiences with a complicated sentimental narrative. As a drama, the film lacks any coherent structure. It is held together by the painful narration of Wilton alone.The Men Who Stare at Goats is not a bad film, but it’s not a good one either.  The true lament lies in the lost potential.