‘The Men Who Stare at Goats” throws audience members for a loop as director Grant Heslov and an all-star cast bombard viewers with scenarios and ideas so fantastical and outrageous that one can hardly believe their truthful origins.
The movie opens with a statement: ‘More of this is true than you would believe.”
And while it seems unlikely that a tale about a division of the Army specializing in psychic and paranormal powers could contain the slightest grain of truth, the film is actually based on a non-fiction book of the same name, written by Jon Ronson.
The film follows journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) as he leaves a ruined home situation, where his wife has left him for his one-handed boss, to go to the Middle East to become a war time journalist. He passes the time monotonously in Kuwait as he anticipates a way to travel to Iraq.
Through a series of strange events and contrived coincidences, he becomes involved with a retired psychic soldier of the New Earth Army, Lyn Cassady (played effortlessly by George Clooney). Wilton soon discovers that becoming involved with Cassady is more of an adventure than he could have ever expected, and the two soon sneak into Iraq. It seems Cassady has been reactivated as a ‘Jedi Warrior,” or a psychic spy as he calls himself (ironic considering McGregor’s own jedi origins), and Wilton tags along in search of a story.
While surviving numerous mishaps, such as being kidnapped by a band of criminals, getting lost in the desert and destroying numerous cars, Cassady describes the history and ideals of the New Earth Army especially the founder Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) to Wilton. The film ends with a whirlwind of goats, LSD and encounters with a jedi of the dark side, Larry Hooper (played suitably by Kevin Spacey).
The acting is supreme. McGregor exhibits some of his ‘Moulin Rouge” glory, playing a nave but endearing writer, besought on an adventure.
Meanwhile, Clooney plays his strange and unreal character Lyn Cassady with such honesty that even a skeptic viewer may not completely dismiss his cloud-bursting, goat-killing ways.
Bill Django, though, is the funniest character in the film, strutting across the screen wearing army drab and a long flowing braid, handing out daisies and yoga teachings to lieutenants. His antics bring the biggest laughs of the movie, and Bridges is perfect in his role.
Despite the legendary cast, the movie falls flat on its promise of humor. It is certainly full of irony and twists of fate but the gut-wrenching laughter eluded to in the trailer is few and far between.
In fact, if an audience member is looking for a good laugh, he or she could simply watch the four-minute trailer and skip the rest of the hour-and-a-half-film.
Every moment of comedic brilliance is held in the trailer’s small time frame a very pitiful display when considering the cast and plot.
The ideas behind the film hold the most interest since the film’s beginnings are said to be based upon fact.
According to Ronson, a special army division known as ‘The First Earth Battalion” existed and members desperately tried, like in the movie, to walk through walls, become invisible and kill goats by staring at them.
Furthermore, Rohnson states that the army has experimented with many of the other weapons mentioned in the movie, such as ‘attack bees” and musical torture, where detainees are tortured with children’s music such as that from ‘Barney” and flashing strobe lights. For a reality twist, musical torture also was allegedly used at Guantanamo on prisoners.
The accusations apparent in the film provoke thoughts that would surprise an unsuspecting movie-goer. Hidden subtly under the folds of this comedy are ideas and statements that should be seriously considered.
Despite these compelling and thought-provoking ideas, though the film as a whole even with its superior cast and creative inspiration bites the dust by providing more questions than answers and more snores than laughs.
Alquist is a member of
the class of 2013.