Grant Heslov’s “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is the first of three chances for George Clooney to prove himself this November. Clooney, who produced the film, stars as a US soldier, stationed in Kuwait, who attempts to win the war with mental combat. Jeff Bridges plays the leader of this motley crew. His character was, in fact, a peacenik who tried to change the world through “Kumbaya”s until he discovered this new form of warfare. The film is structured on the reporting by an American reporter (Ewan McGregor) sent to research the unit. Critics have failed to form a consensus on the film that may be the first of Clooney’s three big hits this month (along with “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Up in the Air”).
Variety‘s Derek Elley is emphatic in his support of the film, calling it “A serendipitous marriage of talent in which all hearts seem to beat as one, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” takes Jon Ronson’s book about “the apparent madness at the heart of U.S. military intelligence” and fashions a superbly written loony-tunes satire, played by a tony cast at the top of its game.”
Calling the film “equal parts ‘Catch-22,’ ‘Three Kings,’ ‘Dr. Strangelove’ and the Hope/Crosby ‘Road’ pictures,” Richard Roeper concludes, “Clooney and McGregor make a terrific comedic duo, with Clooney delivering crazy-ass theories and McGregor playing the straight man to perfection. ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ wobbles a bit in the last 20 minutes, as we’re hit over the head with some heavy political messages and an extended scene that aims for big laughs but produces only a few chuckles. Overall, though, Clooney and Co. succeed in creating a clever, unique and breezy bit of madness.” Roeper’s former colleague Roger Ebert is similarly satisfied, “Imagine “Ghostbusters” is based on a true story. Imagine the Dude from ‘The Big Lebowski’ as a real-life U.S. Army general. All factual, right? That’s what ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ sort of wants us to believe. I think I sort of do — to a small degree, sort of. ‘More of this is true than you would believe,’ the movie announces in an opening title. I’m waiting for the review of this one in Skeptic magazine.”
J. Hoberman, in the Village Voice has everything to be excited for, but in the end says, “Despite a backbeat of perky music and the sarcastic voiceover meant to lubricate the action, The Men Who Stare at Goats lacks pizzazz. The movie isn’t funny enough to work as farce, but it’s far too dippy to take seriously. What’s mildly exasperating is that there is an actual quest involved: The Men Who Stare at Goats goes out to the desert in search of its tone—and never finds it.” In Time Out New York, Joshua Rothkopf is not enthused, saying “Clooney and director Grant Heslov can’t have meant their film to be a total lark; both are vets of the somber Good Night, and Good Luck. Yet if Strangelovian zaniness was their goal, they should have loaded the chamber with some real ammo.”
In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman identifies Grant Heslov as the film’s director, saying “in this case ”directed” is a charitable word.” He concludes his rated-F review by saying that the film “is a magical-realist sitcom war farce that ends up being about nothing but its own slovenly smugness.”