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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Satire > Drama > Politics > Military > Experiments > The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009/Anchor Bay Blu-ray + DVD)

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009/Anchor Bay Blu-ray + DVD)


Picture: B-/C+     Sound: B/C+     Extras: C-     Film: C-



When you have a story that is so wild and outrageous, you can tell it seriously or do it as a satire.  The more serious the implications of the subject matter, the harder it is to tell the story either way and make the story work.  Annihilation with nuclear arms gave us Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove at the same time, both good films, but it is the latter Kubrick satire that really registered and has been imitated since.  The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009) is based on a book about how the U.S. military secretly set up a secret division to explore new mental warfare.


The New Earth Army would use meditation, ESP, telekinesis, telepathy and other New Age ideas the military traditionally rejected as a way to battle anyone they wanted to.  This included experiments where its soldiers would concentrate their mental energies on animals (i.e., the title of the film) to see if they could kill them by thinking them to death.  Ewan McGregor plays a reporter who stumbles onto the story and investigates it any way he can.  George Clooney is an involved party who may know more than he is saying and the closer they get to the story, the more likely they (or at least our reporter) may not survive it.


The great cast also includes Jeff Bridges in his glory, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang and Robert Patrick and this would seem like a good idea for a film and story, especially since some to all of this occurred, but it collapses early on and never recovers.  Why?  Peter Straughan’s screenplay adaptation of the Jon Ronson book is all over the place and Director Grant Heslov cannot find a way to make the story work either, so we get a stream of usually unfunny jokes, quirky performances and offbeat situations that never add up, mean only when the writer or director understand them to mean and gets so bogged down in its fleeting smugness that it beings down the whole film.


Though the movement used by the government to wage war is from the 1960s, the script is obsessed with Star Wars, which in so many ways is the end of the period and opposite of it.  McGregor being in the sequel trilogy further renders any Jedi references even more obnoxious and is one of many examples of how far the film strays from its story.  I never laughed once, even when actors I liked showed up.  Just being off the wall does not make a film a satire.  It has to add up and make sense on some level.  The Men Who Stare At Goats is one of the year’s biggest disappointments.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image is shot in real anamorphic 35mm Panavision, but the transfer here is softer than it should be for that format, especially from a film lensed by the great Director of Photography Robert Elswit (Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood) so either the Digital Internegative was overmanipulated and/or there is a slight issue with the way the transfer was done here.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD version is poorer and has the same flaws and then some, so the Blu-ray is preferred.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 mix works best when playing back music or in the action sequences, though dialogue and other audio elements are well-recorded, the overall soundfield is the default highlight of both versions of the film.  I just thought it could have been better too.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the DVD is not bad for that older format, but cannot match the consistency, richness and fullness of the DTS.  Rolfe Kent’s score is not bad, though.


Extras in both formats include two feature-length audio commentary tracks (one with Heslov, one with Ronson), Deleted Scenes, Character Bios, and two making of featurettes: Goats Declassified and Project “Hollywood, while the Blu-ray adds a Digital Copy of the film for PC and PC portable devices.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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