Sunday, September 5, 2010

Netflix Queue: 'The Men Who Stare At Goats'

A recent New York Times interview with Elliot Gould lamented that -- 40 years after "MASH," nobody is making good American war comedies anymore, a loss to be lamented all the more because there are some aspects of the last decade of tragedy and death that are in ripe need of satire.

Don't listen to the Times. Yes, there's been tons of anti-war schlock out of Hollywood, failures that are cause for joy among conservatives every time one goes down in flames. But the new era has given at least one fairly entertaining war satire: "The Men Who Stare At Goats."

Now: It's not a great movie. It's a deeply flawed movie, in some respects, clumsily playing for pathos near the end -- and coming up with a trick in its last second (literally) that weakened the whole "do they have powers or not?" structure of the flick. And structuring it around the home life of the journalist played by Ewan McGregor was, well, a misfire.

What's more, the movie wasn't really pitched as a war satire in the previews like the one above. Instead, it's sold as a wacky comedy -- more "Sgt. Bilko" with Jedi powers, maybe, instead of "MASH." But most of the movie is set in Iraq during the 2003 invasion -- and it plays for laughs gun battles between Blackwater-type private security contractors, the confusion of Americans unable to distinguish Al Qaeda from common local criminals and, yes, the torture of Iraqis.

Mostly this got missed by critics when the movie came out in 2009 -- focusing on the absurdities of a small-bore program (allegedly) started by the U.S. government instead of what the movie had to say about the big-picture absurdities of our presence in Baghdad. That's ok. The movie only made $32 million at the box office, but I suspect it will age well and garner a new a devoted audience in the years to come. Like the Iraq War itself, it may prove more popular after the fact.

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