Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA/United Kingdom, 2009. BBC Films, Ruby Films, Smokehouse Pictures, Westgate Film Services, Winchester Capital Partners. Screenplay by Peter Straughan, based on the book by Jon Ronson. Cinematography by Robert Elswit. Produced by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Paul Lister. Music by Rolfe Kent. Production Design by Sharon Seymour. Costume Design by Louise Frogley. Film Editing by Tatiana S. Riegel. Toronto International Film Festival 1999.
Grant Heslov’s humorous adaptation of Peter Straughan’s book is an unfortunate misfire, a brilliantly conceived and packaged film that never equals the sum of its parts. What’s a guy to do when his co-worker dies and his wife leaves him? Go to Iraq, of course! Michigan journalist Ewan McGregor decides to abandon his lowly office post and prove to the woman who left him for his editor that he can be a hero, ending up in a posh Kuwait resort spending his days waiting for his chance to get into war-torn Iraq. His opportunity knocks when he meets an American soldier (George Clooney) who brings him into the country with him as his wingman on a “special mission”. Clooney claims to be a member of an elite military team trained in psychic warfare, men who have been trained to use extrasensory powers as weaponry against the enemy. McGregor narrates everything he learns about Clooney’s history, including his offbeat training with a flower-power commander (Jeff Bridges) who believed in dancing as an essential part of training, but never once does he actually see any proof of the training having paid off; every time the nutty soldier tries to win enemies over with his mind, he gets the two of them into deeper trouble. Heslov has a perfectly wry attitude towards his themes, has written painfully good dialogue and cast every role beautifully, right down to a perfect Kevin Spacey as Clooney’s brown-nosing nemesis. His weak direction, unfortunately, never lets it come together, and by the time it’s over you’re still watching the beginning of a really great film. It’s bound to become a cult classic for just how marvelously strange it is.