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Feature


Reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is out to prove something. He’s not sure what it is, but after splitting up with his wife he finds himself in Kuwait looking for a story about the Iraq war. Instead he finds Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who reveals that he is a member of a top secret army unit training psychic spies, or as they prefer to be known, ‘Jedi Warriors’.

Deciding to follow Lyn on his secret mission and find out more about his story, the pair set off across Iraq and Bob starts to discover what it means to be a true Jedi Warrior.

The Men Who Stared At Goats
The Men Who Stare at Goats is one of those movies that you just don’t see coming. I mean, in a time where most movies that look at the war in Iraq generally revolve around US attitudes, the reasons why the war started and humanizing the world view of Iraqi people, the sudden appearance of a movie that decides to drop a smartly written comedy into the war and one that focuses on a suggested ‘true story’ US secret training program is somewhat of a curve ball.

Of course the extra spin on that is that this isn’t just any old secret training program. When you hear the words ‘Super Soldier’ your movie powered mind slips into Universal Soldier mode right? But Goats offers up George Clooney’s Lyn Cassidy and through him we discover everything we need to know about the training of the US Army’s Jedi Warriors.

The Men Who Stared At Goats
From the opening scene that shows Stephen Lang as a General trying to run to the office next door (through the wall) you know that you’re in for a treat but with a full on off-the-wall Clooney performance selling us the specifics of Jedi Warriorism, the movie is just a comedic delight. The cloud bursting, the sparkling eye technique and the harnessing of positive thoughts explanations (as well as the examples given) are fantastic. The dialogue between Ewan and George works wonders and when you have Jeff Bridges in hippy mode and Spacey channelling his spirit guide voice as a fall back, what’s not to like?

Released in cinemas at the tail end of last year I’ve been itching to see this one again, and I’ve gotta say on second viewing I enjoyed it even more than I did the first time around. There’s something about the general set up of this one that puts a smile on my face and watching Jeff Bridges’ Bill Django grinning at his troops, seeing Clooney’s Lyn Cassady being able to dance again (one of the best scenes of last year for me) and the countless conversations with Lyn explaining to Bob about what it means to be a Jedi Warrior (keeping in mind that Bob is Ewan McGregor/Obi-Wan Kenobi) is just about enough to secure The Men Who Stare at Goats as one of the one of my favourite comedies of 2009.

The Men Who Stared At Goats

Video


Despite the box art telling me that it's offering a 1080p transfer, the disc seems to be 1080i (at least that's what my TV tells me). The US release is 1080p, so not too sure what's happening here but outside of that initial niggle, the transfer is still pretty damn great. From the opening close up of Stephen Lang’s face and the droplets of sweat dripping off of it, the movie's lighting does a fine job at showing off details and presenting a bold, vibrant image.

As we move through the movie, the majority of the scenes take place in natural sunlight, so the image quality continues to shine. Clooney and McGregor’s suntans come with a healthy glow and the more sand covered they get the more textured the detail levels become. Black levels are also great and the darker interior or night scenes hold up well with the sharpness of the transfer still managing to impress.

Generally speaking there’s not a lot to fault, a few moments feel softer than others and some of the makeup effects to de-age Kevin Spacey look a little weird but overall this is a great transfer.

Audio


It’s not a full bells and whistles attack on the senses but I found The Men Who Stare at Goats Dolby TrueHD track to be a bit of a powerhouse. Dialogue is clear and well presented and is everything you’d expect from a relatively small comedy, but when machine guns fire, helicopters and explosions come into the track, there’s not much separating this from a full on war movie. Shells rattle out of guns, bass kicks in for over head helicopters and everything that happens to Bob and Lyn's vehicles all hammer home. The jump in power is noticeable and quite daunting in its realism, so there’s just no knocking how effective this track is.

Also the music within the mix is split well between the front and rear speakers (well other than the opening credits Supergrass ‘Alright’ track—that sounded awful, like it was had been condensed into a single speaker or something). The soundtrack fills the speaker system, adding a lot of weight to moments and having a real presence.

Put all this together and throw in a subtle and pretty effective range of atmospherics as well (especially in the secret base towards the end of the movie) and The Men Who Stare at Goats provides a nice overall audio experience.

The Men Who Stared At Goats

Extras


Offering up two commentaries, the first comes from director Grant Heslov. It suffers in places from being a solo affair with a few quiet moments and describing simply what’s on screen but is still an enjoyable listen along with Heslov throwing in plenty of fun facts about his movie and details about some of the digital work to make the US backdrop look like Iraq.

The second commentary from Author Jon Ronson provides a nice companion piece to bridge the gap between the movie and the book. He provides plenty of information on the ins and outs of the First Earth Battalion and exactly what’s based on fact and what’s not. There’s more detail about the outrageous plans the military had for the program and frankly it sounds like the stuff in the movie was simply the tip of the iceberg.

Moving on to the featurettes, there’s the fascinating ‘Goat’s Declassified: The Real men of the First Earth Battalion’ (12:30 HD). It has talks with genuine members of the real battalion and explains how the army took on new age ideals and how much ‘remote viewing’ changes your life. Seriously, I thought it was funny in the movie, now I almost want to give it a shot.

‘Project Hollywood: A Classified Report’ (07:33 HD) is a short and sweet making of with the cast and crew talking movie making and all highlighting how must fun they had on set.

Rounding up there’s just over four minutes of deleted scenes all of which are gems, especially the fight training between Clooney and Spacey. There’s ‘Character Profiles’ (04:33 HD) which are just mini trailers and of course we get the actual trailer (02:22 HD).

The Men Who Stared At Goats

Overall


The Men Who Stare at Goats just missed my top ten list of 2009 and watching it again further deepened my admiration of it. It’s full of great characters, goofy as hell moments (that are just goofy enough to believe as real life events) and has sharp, funny dialogue and performances from all involved.

The Blu-ray delivers in both video and audio departments and the enjoyable commentaries pretty much make up for the lack of actual featurettes, so all in all, this is a solid recommendation from me.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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