Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Goats is one of those quirkier comedies that just lets you enjoy the slight air of absurdity around it for a while instead of hitting you over the head with wacky moments. It's mostly propelled by good, off-beat performances, especially from its two leads, Ewan McGregor and George Clooney. McGregor is a down-on-his-luck reporter who spends a lot of the film in awe of the strange stuff he keeps seeing, though he also has a strong humorous streak whenever it gets too crazy and he has to lash out. Clooney does one of the best jobs I've seen him do, as an army man on a mission obsessed with his special skills which may or may not be totally fictional. The movie's based on a book about an apparently very real government program to train psychic soldiers to do things like see into distant locations and even kill things with the power of their mind. The film itself can't seem to decide whether to make it real, because half the time they really do work and the other half it's just the hopelessly narrow way they look at it. Maybe that's what it's really about though, just your perspective at any moment.

Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey also turn in solid work as other members of the special unit, though they're mainly seen in flashbacks to when it was still in its prime. The whole movie's structured a bit oddly, bouncing back and forth between mostly the 80s before the program was shut down and earlier this decade, when the author/narrator was in Iraq finding all this stuff out. It really has the feel of one of the Coen Brothers' more light-hearted movies, which is totally cool by me. It's the kind of thing where I enjoyed watching it a lot more than you might guess from just monitoring my laughter, although there were definitely plenty of times I chuckled. The ending was a bit weird, and it's an unusual situation because it would have been pretty much perfect if they just cut it literally a few seconds earlier. It has the feel of being based on a somewhat troubling book to adapt, though for what it's worth the writer did a pretty good job at it. I can't remember many comedies from this year and there are definitely a couple I want to see, but this is one of the better to come out as this decade closes.

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