The Men Who Stare at Goats

Cast:
George Clooney as Lyn Cassady
Ewan McGregor as Bob Wilton
Jeff Bridges as Bill Django
Kevin Spacey as Larry Hooper
Stephen Lang as Brigadier General Dean Hopgood
Robert Patrick as Todd Nixon
Waleed Zuaiter as Mahmud Daash
Stephen Root as Gus Lacey
Glenn Morshower as Major General Holtz
Nick Offerman as Scotty Mercer
Tim Griffin as Tim Kootz
Rebecca Mader as Debora Wilton
Jacob Browne as Lieutenant Boone
Todd La Tourrette as Dave
Brad Grunberg as Ron

Summary:
Great performances by Clooney, McGregor, and Bridges make “The Men Who Stare at Goats” a fun film that’s well worth checking out.

Story:
The following is the official plot summary for the film:

“In this quirky dark comedy inspired by a real life story you will hardly believe is actually true, astonishing revelations about a top-secret wing of the U.S. military come to light when a reporter encounters an enigmatic Special Forces operator on a mind-boggling mission.

Reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is in search of his next big story when he encounters Lyn Cassady (Academy Award® winner George Clooney), a shadowy figure who claims to be part of an experimental U.S. military unit. According to Cassady, the New Earth Army is changing the way wars are fought. A legion of “Warrior Monks” with unparalleled psychic powers can read the enemy’s thoughts, pass through solid walls, and even kill a goat simply by staring at it. Now, the program’s founder, Bill Django (Oscar® nominee Jeff Bridges), has gone missing and Cassady’s mission is to find him.

Intrigued by his new acquaintance’s far-fetched stories, Bob impulsively decides to accompany him on the search. When the pair tracks Django to a clandestine training camp run by renegade psychic Larry Hooper (two-time Oscar® winner Kevin Spacey), the reporter is trapped in the middle of a grudge match between the forces of Django’s New Earth Army and Hooper’s personal militia of super soldiers. In order to survive this wild adventure, Bob will have to outwit an enemy he never thought possible.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” was inspired by Jon Ronson’s non-fiction bestseller of the same name, an eye-opening and often hilarious exploration of the government’s attempts to harness paranormal abilities to combat its enemies.”

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is rated R for language, some drug content and brief nudity.

What Worked:
I really enjoyed “The Men Who Stare at Goats” for a number of reasons. Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first – I am a “Star Wars” geek. So seeing George Clooney as Lyn Cassady lecturing Ewan McGregor as Bob Wilton on the ways of the Jedi cracked me up. They did the joke many, many times and it never got old. And it wasn’t just with me. The rest of the audience was cracking up, too. The joke would have seemed forced (no pun intended) if the military hadn’t actually called the special trainees ‘Jedi’. But they did, so it seems OK to laugh as Clooney talks about the ‘Ways of the Jedi’ with a perfectly straight face. So if you’re a “Star Wars” fan, this is something you’ll want to check out.

Clooney and McGregor make a great comedy team. Half of the film is kind of a road trip picture showing the two making their way across war torn Iraq. Clooney plays Lyn Cassady with all seriousness while looking like a first class nutcase. He talks about psychic powers, mind tricks, invisibility, stopping goats’ hearts with minds, and other bizarre tricks with complete conviction. It’s to the point that you wonder if you’re the one that’s crazy for not believing him. What’s ironic about it all is that all these powered tricks ultimately rely on un-supernatural techniques to make them successful. Despite that being the case, Cassady believes he has powers with all his heart. Poor Bob is stuck in the middle of nowhere with this man that may or may not be crazy and may or may not get him killed. The more desperate their situation becomes, the more freaked out McGregor becomes. I don’t know how McGregor kept a straight face while watching Clooney’s Jedi teachings and sparkling eyes techniques, but he deserves recognition for it. This DVD is going to have some really fun outtakes.

The second half of the movie is a series of flashbacks featuring Jeff Bridges as Bill Django, the founder of the New Earth Army. Bridges delivers an impressive performance. We see him in Vietnam as a soldier in the middle of combat. We then see him later in life on a spiritual journey trying to make sense of his visions. His character is then seen as a hippie Jedi Master, teaching his students in trippy New Age techniques with a military slant. We then see him years later as an utterly broken man, a shadow of his former self. It’s a great performance by Bridges and he makes every stage of Django’s life completely believable. It’s a great mix of comedy and tragedy.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is also an amusing commentary on American news media. After Bob has this amazing experience and uncovers all this information on bizarre government psychic training, the only thing the media picks up on is a minor blurb that’s totally irrelevant to the bigger picture. It’s a funny moment when it is played out on the screen, but it’s an important lesson on just how much news is filtered before it gets to you.

Director Grant Heslov is a character actor you’ve seen in many films like “True Lies,” “The Scorpion King,” “Leatherheads,” and more. But this is only the second major film he has directed and I have to say I was impressed. He did a great job with the comedy as well as the drama, and it was a well-paced, good-looking film. I look forward to seeing his future directorial efforts.

What Didn’t Work:
“The Men Who Stare at Goats” has a scene where a soldier has a bad LSD trip and starts shooting fellow soldiers randomly at a military base. Considering that there was a major shooting at Fort Hood the day before this movie came out, it may hit a little close to home for some people. But it is a brief scene so hopefully it won’t be too disturbing to audiences.

Unfortunately, as much as I love Kevin Spacey, his performance comes out as way over the top when compared to the other actors in the film. While Bridges and Clooney have their fair share of wacky moments, Spacey seems to be hamming it up compared to them. It’s like they had two different visions of what the movie was supposed to be.

As fun as the movie is, the ending isn’t all that satisfying. The first two thirds of the film are funny and engaging. But the last third takes a trippy, dark, odd turn. I don’t know how much of it was based on reality, but it didn’t feel like it fit with the rest of the film’s tone. I won’t spoil it here, but you can check it out for yourself.

This is also one of those films where the trailers and commercials spoil many of the funniest moments. They’re fun to see again with audiences, but it does ruin some of the experience knowing what’s coming.

The Bottom Line:
Overall, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is a fun movie well worth checking out. It’s the kind of story that makes you want to pick up the book after it’s over and see just how much of it was fact and what was fiction.

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