The Blog That Stares at the Men Who Stare at Goats
You see, I think that George Clooney might be one of our possible stars. (And another digression--Harrison Ford was one, why he could pull off Indiana Jones so effortlessly, back in the day, like Grant in Gunga Din, but something happened. I'm trying not to blame Calista Flockhart.) It doesn't hurt Clooney's Gable-esque and gorgeous, but there's a certain magnanimity of character he effuses. And while he never seems too full of himself, he isn't yet a parody of himself, either, like Nicholson or DeNiro, say. All that helps us want to like him a whole bunch, and that good will carries us through much of Goats, as we keep thinking it has to be better than it is. That's a star up there, after all.
Alas, even with a story that seems ripe for much--the film proudly announces "more of this is true than you would believe"--about an actual U.S. Army project to create a group of mind warriors, as it were, Jedi (this is from the Stars Wars era) who could bust clouds or goats with one mighty psychic stare. Clooney, as Lyn Cassady, is perhaps the best man from that unit, and if he's the best, well, you can see as the movie goes on there's going to be problems. For here we are with him and Ohioan reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor, stuck playing straightman, Crosby to Clooney's Hope), trying to win his wife back by going to the Iraq War and being a man. Lots of desert hi-jinks ensue.
And suddenly intimations of Abu Ghraib. For what is often a very silly picture (c'mon, jokes about McGregor maybe being a Jedi? the person who steals Wilton's wife away has a prosthetic arm, just so we get a smidgen of Strangelove into the picture?) right down to the obligatory ass shots of the two leading men in hospital gowns that don't close (a little something for the ladies...) really wants to be about the darkside and those who want to profit from war and the torturing of prisoners. What's more, the nastiest character is played by the as usual mild-manneredly menacing Kevin Spacey. And if you bring in Keyser Soze to be your evil, you've got to mean it.
The wild tonal shifts just don't work, so what's supposed to be powerful and gut-wrenching seems shocking and misplaced and then the humor seems inappropriate. And it's not that I'm a prude--I'm more willing than most to make a sick joke at the wrong time just to let out the air of solemnity and sadness--it's just the jokes aren't that good. And the seriousness seems unearned, too.
There is plenty to enjoy, like the ever fine Stephen Root in an early cameo, and especially Jeff Bridges as Bill Django, the leader/guru of the New Earth Army, who even walks funny and has an amusingly blissed out look for most of the film. It's just that you keep hoping it might be funnier, or more powerful, and it can't pull either off. You keep wishing it could go all out satire (the Strangelove route) or suddenly pull you up with the sense of the danger and darkness in all of us (to stick with Kubrick, the Paths of Glory route, maybe?). Instead, the movie will just get your goat trying to be all things at a muddled once.