The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009): United States – directed by Grant Heslov
Rated R by the MPAA – contains bad language, a little violence, some drug content, and some nudity, most of it humorous
The Men Who Stare at Goats purports to contain more truth than the viewer might think. I suspect that the filmmakers might be pulling a Fargo on us, however. The plot delves deeply into far-fetchedness and silliness, but that’s where it draws its charm.
Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a down-on-his-luck journalist; his wife has left him for his editor, he lives in Michigan, and he can only dream of finding a big story. In search of honor and glory he heads to Iraq, hoping to be a part of exciting stories and fantastic adventures. He fails at this, too, and is not able to even enter Iraq on his own accord. The only thing he manages to do is happen upon Lyn Cassady (George Clooney).
After a rocky initial encounter, Cassady agrees to allow Wilton to go with him on his top secret mission into Iraq. Along the way Cassady fills him in on the rather ridiculous tale that brought him this far.
Cassady was trained by the New Earth Army, a branch of the Armed Forces led by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), under the curious eye of General Hopgood (Stephen Lang, the military man from Avatar [review here]). They are hippies armed with consciousness; their goal is to prevent conflict. Failing this, they are extensively trained in using their minds to bring down enemy combatants. Psychic weapons are their forte, though they possess other skills such as viewing other places from afar, in an attempt to locate enemy hideouts or uncover the location of hostages.
There is a villain, in the form of Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey). A member of the New Earth Army, he has goals that run counter to the peace-loving hippiness espoused by Django. All of this, and more, Wilton uncovers as he and Cassady venture deeper into the deserts of Iraq.
The plot is quite silly indeed, as it might sound from the brief description above. The film is primarily a comedy, played with the utmost sincerity by the all-star cast. Clooney has been busy in 2009, with each of his roles being quite different. Here he is definitely a nutcase, although some of the things he manages to do border on the paranormal. Bridges is merely an extension of The Dude, if that character had actually cared about anything. Halfway through the film I found myself thinking, “Wow, a role where Ewan McGregor keeps his pants on,” and then five minutes later I found myself mistaken in hilarious fashion.
The production is competent, with some impressive location work in New Mexico. Nothing is too stylish or ostentatious, allowing the audience to concentrate on the story. As a whole it is better to just flow with the movie, as the plot unfolds in an absurd fashion. If you allow yourself to become caught up in the story and characters you will probably have a good time. Cynics, on the other hand, would likely find much to fault in the film.
I enjoyed the experience, though it is slight. I laughed quite a bit, enjoying the performances of the experienced cast. There might be some slight satire aimed at the ridiculousness of government, but overall the film doesn’t say anything deep or particularly thoughtful. Watching The Men Who Stare at Goats is an enjoyable experience to be had, if only once.