Bizarre as it may seem, the comic material in Grant Heslov‘s The Men Who Stare at Goats (Overture, 11.6) is based on reported truth, or more precisely Jon Ronson‘s 2004 non-fiction book about the U.S. Army’s exploration of New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal. Does the trailer convey a verite element? You tell me.
Trailers always rely on the crudest and broadest selling points, of course, but this one is clearly suggesting that the tone of Heslov’s film may be on the unsubtle and slapsticky side, almost in a Blake Edwardsy sense. Okay, in a sort-of dry and deadpanny vein. The straight-up, no-funny-business look on George Clooney‘s lean and moustachioed face tells you that.
But what about that shot of an animatronic goat tipping over and falling on its side? That’s an Eloi joke on the level of I Love You, Beth Cooper. And the fact that the Kevin Spacey-Jeff Bridges courtroom confrontation about girls and drugs isn’t funny? And that guy running into a wall? And while I’m sure there’s a no-big-deal explanation, why are formally uniformed Army guys shown wearing long sideburns and facial hair in a wedding reception ceremony? This sets off an alarm bell.
All I can tell you is that before watching the trailer, I was semi-pumped about seeing this film in Toronto. I had presumed Heslov, a very smart guy on Clooney’s wavelength and vice versa, would play down the inherently bizarre material and keep it real and let the wackazoid stuff speak for itself. But now, having seen the trailer, I’m feeling a little bit worried. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe this is just a matter of the Overture trailer guys looking to bring in the dumb-asses.
Heslov directed from a script by Peter Straughan. Ewan McGregor costars with Clooney, Spacey and Bridges. Set in Iraq (but filmed in New Mexico and Puerto Rico), it’s about Bob Wilton (McGregor), a reporter working on a story about Lyn Cassady (Clooney), who claims to be a former secret U.S. Military psychic soldier re-activated post-9/11. Bridges is Bill Django, the founder of the psychic soldier program and Lyn’s mentor. Spacey is Larry Hooper, a former psychic soldier who runs a prison camp in Iraq.