A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this offbeat war comedy based on the same-named book by Jon Ronson could be a magnet for teens intrigued by both the loopy humor and stars George Clooney and Ewan McGregor. Drug use -- presented in a humorous context -- plays a key role in a couple of significant scenes, which means that if your kids see it, a good talk about drugging might be in order. There's also drinking and smoking, some fighting and war-related violence, a fair amount of swearing ("f--k," "s--t," and more), and brief partial nudity (topless women and men's buttocks).
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Cuckolded Midwestern journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) heads for Iraq to prove to his philandering wife that he still has the goods. He finagles an entry into the country when, by luck, he runs into Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a former troop-mate of Wilton’s source who once revealed that he was part of a little-known unit of the Army that helped soldiers develop psychic powers. They explored how to use peace to stop war, let their bodies be free, danced, and supposedly stopped goats dead in their tracks by staring at them. But the arrival of manipulative soldier Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) put an end to the experiments. So what happened exactly? And what brings Lyn to Iraq?
Is it any good?
Inspired by journalist Jon Ronson's same-named book, THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS is absurdly entertaining, with beautifully rendered scenery and moments small and big filled with quirk and wit. But, like a raconteur who entertains but never quite gets to the point, this comedy doesn’t, either. Clooney clearly can make any material seem appealing, and with McGregor in the mix, too, how can you go wrong? But the film ultimately feels aimless and doesn't quite get it right -- it seems to be working toward some sort of grand message about peace in wartime or fighting with the mind and not with weapons, but it never quite arrives
Or maybe it really is just about outsiders within the military who make it their own -- with a hefty dose of help from every other New Age movement. (It also milks the Jedi jokes too much. We get it: Obi-Wan in Iraq.) As a character, Bob is particularly problematic, as he’s set up to undergo some kind of transformation. But does he, really? Unfortunately, you're never quite sure. There’s nothing to hang on to, no through line to lead viewers to the payoff.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's timeliness. With wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, check in with your kids about how satirizing combat comes across. What do your kids think?
The movie is clearly satirical, but is there a kernel of truth amid the jokes? If so, what is it?
The movie is supposedly based on a true story. Do you think it's believable? What do you think might have been changed in the course of making the movie? Why would filmmakers adjust the facts?
- In theaters: November 6, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: March 23, 2010
- Cast: Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey
- Director: Grant Heslov
- Studio: Overture Films
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, some drug content and brief nudity
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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