Or: Reviewed by the Man Who Stares at Movies
The Men Who Stare at Goats tells the semi-fictional story of the United States’ development of a psychic super soldier program during the '70s and '80s. More specifically, the movie narrates the fictional story of Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a reporter in the Middle East, who runs into Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a “Jedi Warrior” who, in turn, explains the (exaggerated) story of the U.S. Army’s Psychic Soldier Program.
Much of Bob and Lyn’s adventure takes place in present-day Iraq, as Lyn attempts to fulfill a mission, the full extent of which isn’t revealed until near the end of the film. Meanwhile, the backstory, which involves the formation of the First Earth Battalion, is told through flashbacks. The formation of this “Jedi Warrior” program is lead by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), an advocate of the “new wave hippie” movement of the '70s. Django promises to train his men with the abilities to walk through walls, telepathically communicate, and see into the future.
The one soldier who excels most at his training just happens to be Lyn, but the program slowly draws criticism from the higher-ups and eventually shuts down with Django getting discharged. The program re-opens some years later, with the promise that the soldiers would be able to make an opponents heart stop with the power of their minds. Lyn demonstrates this when he stares a goat to death, consequently instilling in him a sense of guilt, which eventually propels him to take the journey he has embarked on with Bob.
The movie draws heavily from the book of the same title (which also spawned a three-part BBC documentary) that helps set up the general premise of the film. However, the film takes the basic concept and applies some human interest (as Hollywood is want to do) by developing the backstory of Lyn Cassady and Bob Wilton. This, however, ends up as one of the film’s biggest flaws. The premise itself is intriguing and interesting enough that it's not really necessary to bring in anything else. I suppose that if they hadn’t brought in anything, though, they would just have the BBC documentary, which had (obviously) already been made.
Judging the film as just a movie, however, still reveals some major flaws. Mainly, the jokes seem to just fall flat, either being too predictable or just not very funny. The characters, while likeable, are not entirely intriguing enough to carry the film, except, perhaps for Jeff Bridges’s character Bill Django. It's simply a delight to see Jeff Bridges walking around dressed in army fatigues, spouting hippie pseudo-philosophy to those around him. George Clooney, on the other hand, feels a little more like he’s phoning in his performance, making Jeff Bridges just that much more of a show stealer in this film.
However, the film does have its moments, and if you're simply looking for a couple good chuckles, there are definitely worse ways you could spend your time. The story itself is entertaining, and a refreshing, original break from the monotonous comedy movie cliches that we’ve all come to expect. However, if anyone is interested in learning the true story behind the events, I would direct them to the aforementioned BBC documentary.
Ratings for The Men Who Stare at Goats
Rating (out of 10 )
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