Directed by: Grant Heslov
Starring: Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey
Rated: R for language, some drug content and brief nudity.
“The Men Who Stare At Goats” is based on a true story. However, rather
than the standard title card to tell us so, it has one which reads
simply, “More of this is true than you would believe.” Having heard a
few interviews with the author of the book that provided the basis for
the film, I have to agree. This is a strange movie about a strange
series of events, and fans of absurdist comedy must not miss it.
Reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor, bravely attempting an American
accent) has nothing to lose. His wife has left him for his editor, so he
decides to prove himself by going to Iraq, where the first Gulf War is
beginning to rage. While in Kuwait awaiting permission to cross the
border, he meets Lyn “Skip” Cassady (George Clooney), who was described
by the local looney back home as one of the greatest psychic talents in
a now-defunct government program called the New Earth Army. Lyn is
heading into Iraq, so Bob asks to tag along and write up Lyn’s story.
The man agrees, and the two head off into the desert.
The story Lyn tells as he drives the two of them toward the war is an
incredible one, but Clooney plays Lyn so straight it’s hard not to
believe him. The government, he says, used to have a unit devoted to
creating “Jedi warriors” — soldiers able to spy at a distance, defend
themselves without weapons, and walk through walls. The head of this
program was Bill Django (Jeff Bridges, essentially playing a smarter
version of The Dude from “The Big Lebowsky”), a Vietnam vet who, after a
vision on the battlefield, dove into new age materials and essentially
turned into a soldier hippie.
Bob’s adventures in the desert with Lyn and the history of Bill’s unit
are interwoven until both come to a head out in the middle of nowhere in
Iraq. Old friends are reunited, old enemies face off once again, and Bob
gets his story. Whether the New Earth Army soldiers actually have
superpowers is an argument the film doesn’t seem to take sides on. Sure,
one of them once killed a goat by staring at it for three hours (or at
least, the goat dropped dead while being stared at), but most of their
apparent abilities can be explained away with coincidence.
But that’s not the point. What matters isn’t whether they could actually
do any of those things; what matters is that they thought they could if
they trained properly, and acted accordingly. The film simply presents
the events and allows us to see the hilarity of them.
“The Men Who Stare At Goats” is not a perfect film, but when it comes to
the comedy of the absurd, it has it down pat. How else can we react but
with laughter at the sight of a high-ranking Army officer sprinting
headlong into a wall and bouncing off it when his training under a
long-haired acid tripper fails him? This isn’t an easy film to do
justice to with a short review. If you have a taste for the bizarre,
don’t miss it — but if you like your movies straightforward and your
comedy simple and shallow, go elsewhere.