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The Men Who Stare at Goats DVD Review

The Men Who Stare at Goats movie poster The Men Who Stare at Goats

Theatrical Release: November 6, 2009 / Running Time: 94 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Grant Heslov / Writers: Jon Ronson (book), Peter Straughan (screenplay)

Cast: George Clooney (Lyn Casady), Ewan McGregor (Bob Wilton), Jeff Bridges (Bill Django), Kevin Spacey (Larry Hooper), Stephen Lang (Brigadier General Dean Hopgood), Robert Patrick (Todd Nixon), Waleed Zuaiter (Mahmud Daash), Stephen Root (Gus Lacey), Glenn Morshower (Major General Holtz)

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The Men Who Stare at Goats is based on Jon Ronson's 2004 nonfiction book of the same name. Both deal with the U.S. military's research into psychic superpowers.

For the film, British writer Ronson becomes American journalist Bob Wilton (played by Scotsman Ewan McGregor).
When a life reevaluation leads his wife to leave him for his editor, Bob decides he needs to do something grand and meaningful. He heads to the Middle East, where the ongoing Iraq War is in its infancy. Bob is unable to get embedded, but a stroke of luck introduces him to Lyn Casady (George Clooney), a mustachioed gentleman whose reputation precedes him. Lyn was a chief part of the movement to explore how the U.S. army could make use of psychic talents.

With slight reluctance, Lyn shares with Bob the covert details of his training as a military "Jedi." So, while the two men team up to move from Kuwait into the action in Iraq, a history of the bizarre psychic spy unit is fleshed out. The department, established in Fort Bragg back in 1983, was the brainchild of Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), whose epiphany came in a Vietnam drop that revealed new soldiers' reluctance to aim for targets.

Lyn Casady (George Clooney) shows Bob and us the "sparkly eyes" technique practiced by the Army psychic spies known as Jedi. Lyn's mental powers do not keep Bob (Ewan McGregor) and him from abduction by gunpoint.

After years of thought and experience, the braided, bearded veteran Django forms the New Earth Army, a peaceful group meant to harness mind power and break through conventional barriers. Exercises include bursting clouds and stopping animals' hearts merely by concentration. Among hippie Django's disciples is Lyn, whose askew stories and practices are being met with healthy amounts of skepticism from Bob back in 2003. Whatever parapsychological know-how Lyn possesses seems little use to their present partnership, which finds them stranded in deserts and kidnapped by terrorists.

The Men Who Stare at Goats plays as a comedy, the kind for adults that has seemed to grow less fashionable in recent years as the public has favored rowdy, envelope-pushing fare instead. The tone and settings reminded me of Good Morning, Vietnam and the Vietnam stretches of Forrest Gump. Comparisons to older films, even good popular ones that aren't really old, tend to not be something studios highlight and critics commend. But in this case, I'm making them as a frame of reference, not to fault the film for a common lack of originality.

This movie is fairly original, particularly in its little-documented, apparently true subject matter. And the capable cast assembled here ensures we stay interested. Besides the 2010 Best Actor Oscar contenders Bridges and Clooney (both recognized for dramatic work released just after this) and adequately Americanized lead/narrator McGregor, that cast includes two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey (earning a now-rare respectable credit as an adversary of Lyn) and, more briefly, the always amusing Stephen Root and suddenly recognizable Avatar hazard Stephen Lang.

Displaying some of The Dude's tranquility, recent Oscar winner Jeff Bridges plays Colonel Bill Django, the founder of the unconventional New Earth Army. Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) is not nearly as amused as Lyn by their shared military training at Fort Bragg.

Things are a little less steady in the writing and directing departments. Not all the jokes land very well, a fact more noticeable when the joke is a broad montage than a passing non sequitur. Goats represents the first major feature film directing credit for Grant Heslov, George Clooney's production partner and Good Night, and Good Luck co-writer. The novice feel that stems from the inexperience does register as a minor hindrance and becomes an easy culprit for why the comedy isn't consistently sharper.
The script by British playwright Peter Straughan is pretty solid, but it is more confident than it should be in the funny and dramatic beats it aims for.

If not as lasting or memorable as it might have been, Goats nonetheless registers as consistently entertaining. And it's somewhat of a miracle that a film set largely on the fringe of the Iraq War that's produced by and starring vocal liberal Clooney avoids getting political. Sure, the military, specifically its ludicrous mind control program, is the butt of jokes here. But anyone fearing anti-war Clooney's involvement rendering this farce polemical can breathe easy. There are even some clips of President George W. Bush speeches not deliberately chosen to make him look like a bumbling idiot. Of course, right now at least, the mere sight of Bush presidency video seems to carry some air of criticism and second-guessing.

The moderate box office performance of Goats doesn't quite support or refute the rationale that moviegoers won't pay to see Iraq War movies, but then this doesn't fit that subgenre comfortably nor was it advertised as such. The film's $32 million domestic take cleared its modest $25 M reported production budget and actually made it the fourth highest-grossing release in the history of Overture Films. However, the studio's history runs back all of two years and, to date, sixteen films, all but three of which were released to fewer theaters than this.

Overture and home video arm Anchor Bay released The Men Who Stare at Goats to DVD and Blu-ray this week.

Buy The Men Who Stare at Goats on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: March 23, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.96
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc


With its wide 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio preserved, The Men Who Stare at Goats looks great on DVD. The picture is immaculately clean and boasts appropriate detail and sharpness. A few shots look a touch soft, but even those staring down the picture shouldn't find anything of concern. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack also delivers the goods, making impressive use of the soundfield, often in subtle but tactful ways. All in all, this is a most satisfactory feature presentation.

Retired army lieutenant colonel Jim Channon, the inspiration for Jeff Bridges' character Django, is still a believer in parapsychology, "Goats Declassified" reveals. Director Grant Heslov discusses the challenges of working with goats in "Project 'Hollywood'."


Extras begin with two solo audio commentaries easily overlooked by their placement in the Set Up menu. There are much worse things you can do than miss these.

In his track, director Grant Heslov says plenty and talks almost non-stop (something you notice when the film's soundtrack has a rare chance to rise). But the basic filmmaking facts he dishes out aren't interesting and don't really add to our appreciation of the film. When discussing locations or merely being celebratory, this is one boring commentary.
It picks up when Heslov opens up about clearing music and what does or doesn't get a laugh in theaters. Such moments are few and far between.

The second commentary features Jon Ronson, author of the Goats book, all by himself. This soft-spoken Brit fares a little better dealing not with filmmaking but the facts. He shares real-life inspirations and points out when the film departs from his experience and research. It's interesting, but only by comparison. I suppose those familiar with Ronson may appreciate hearing his remarks on military animal testing and torture; there isn't too much for the rest of us to gleam from this.

The DVD probably would have improved with Heslov and Ronson teaming up for a single track, then having each other to bounce off of, halving the time requirement, and only giving us the more interesting revelations.

Each of these four leading actors' parts is highlighted in the "Character Bios" promos. Ewan McGregor sees if he has what it takes to be a different kind of Jedi in this alternate scene with Jeff Bridges.

Video extras begin with two featurettes. "Goats Declassified: The Real Men of the First Earth Battalion" (12:30) testifies to the film's factual basis, with interviews of retired army men, who share their experiences as psychic spies. Fascinatingly, most maintain belief in -- and some even continue to practice -- "remote viewing."

"Project 'Hollywood': A Classified Report from the Set" (7:30) gives us a standard making-of,

as the leading men and key creative crew describe their attraction to the project and the positive collaboration it provided. There's very little you couldn't predict hearing, but it's still a worthwhile companion piece.

"Character Bios" (4:45) promote each of the four stars and the film itself in 70-second spots that prominently feature Boston's "More Than a Feeling."

Three of the four deleted scenes (4:12) are short and unremarkable (including a martial arts lesson from Django), but the final one is an alternate McGregor-Bridges scene with a cloudbursting callback.

We also get the fun original theatrical trailer for The Men Who Stare at Goats (2:23). It's nice that some studios remember how easy it is to add an extra of worth by including this.

The disc loads with trailers for The Crazies and "Spartacus: Blood and Sand". The same ads are individually accessible from the "Also on DVD" menu along with promos for The Slammin' Salmon, Law Abiding Citizen, and "Party Down".

The static menus further the red and yellow motif of the poster and DVD art. The main menu is scored. There are no inserts inside the eco-friendly keepcase, which comes in a snazzy embossed slipcover whose biggest addition is an Ewan McGregor spine.

You didn't think "The Men Who Stare at Goats" was just some metaphorical title, did you? Fresh flowers bring a big smile to the face of Brigadier General Dean Hopgood (Stephen Lang of "Avatar" fame).


Less quirky than the title and artwork suggest, The Men Who Stare at Goats offers a diverting look at interesting subject matter. It is a little choppy and not as successful as it should be, but still serves up some good laughs and endearing performances from actors who are talented enough to keep us from getting bored. The DVD supplies a top-notch feature presentation and although only a few short videos out of the hearty supply of bonus features are worth your time, the film itself is worth seeing.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy on Blu-ray / The Book by Jon Ronson

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Reviewed March 27, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 Overture Films, Winchester Capital Management, BBC Films, Smokehouse, Paul Lister Productions, and 2010 Anchor Bay Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.