Men who stare at goats – Review

The Men Who Stare at Goats, based on a book by Jon Ronson is about the U.S. Army’s look into weaponizing psychic abilities, is a dark comedy / buddy road movie; think that sounds like an odd combination, well, that is just the tip of a very odd iceberg.

The film opens to Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a reporter for the Ann Arbor Daily Telegram, after the death of a colleague sets in motion a series of events that include interviewing a crazy guy who tells him he was once part of the army’s attempts to create physic super soldiers, that would lead him to flying to Kuwait.

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Once in Kuwait and not really thinking things through that clearly, he finds him self waiting at a local hotel trying to get permission to enter the restricted area.

Whilst waiting he meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a retired Special Forces operator, at first he thinks he is a normal business man until he learns his name. He connects this back to an earlier interview, which he wrote off as a waste of time, realising there is truth to the guy’s ramblings Bob thinks he is onto the story of the year and follows Lyn getting what info he can.

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Whilst following Lyn to learn what he can about these super psychic soldiers through a series of flashbacks, he ends up going on quite a ride, encountering bad driving, examples of Lyn’s abilities, his views on life and the universe, being kidnapped, running from overzealous private security companies and learning why Lyn is there. Lyn is looking for his old boss the leader and creator of the New Earth Army Bill Django (Jeff Bridges).

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Through the flashbacks we also meet the fourth member of the main cast, Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), Lyn and Larry made up Bills two top students, but they also hated each other, Lyn and Larry are diametrically opposed in terms of their views on the movement, Lyn wanted to focus on the positive where Larry wanted to focus on the darker side.

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Bob and Lyn end up in the middle of nowhere after following Lyn’s feeling and they find the new home of the army’s attempts at physic warfare ran by no other than Larry Hooper, Bill Django is on base advising.

The movie ends with Bob going home a changed man after his journey determined to carry on the story of the New Earth army.

Right enough of that, did I like the film, well having never heard of Jon Ronson or The Men Who Stare at Goats, I decided the first thing would be to look up the book, as I understand it the book is about the writers investigations into the US Army’s trails of New Age ideas and the paranormal to see if there was any practical military applications, it sounds like an interesting book, the question is does it make for a good film.

Well yes and no, the book obviously provided the script writers with a great set of out there characters and conversations to mine for comedy gold, which left them to come up with the surrounding plot, this is where I found my first problem, the film feels disjointed, there are a good amount of laughs but seriously thin on plot, it’s not so much as a plot but a series of comedy set pieces to make you laugh (hopefully) loosely strung together with the bare minimum of plot to get you to the next point.

There are parts of the film that I got a real kick out of, they are funny and interesting and a little scary, scary only because you would not think serious people in charge of any military complex would fund this type of stuff when they did. The scenes I most enjoyed boiled down to the flash backs that show the history of the New Earth Army, for me Jeff Bridges passing out flowers to up tight soldiers and getting them to dance was gold and worth the price of the ticket alone. Then in the present day, with scenes where we get to see Lyn’s skills and methods in action, the scene with Clooney explaining the Predator to McGregor is another real highlight.

Fortunately for me and the rest of the audience these scenes make up most of the movie.

The other parts of the movie, the buddy road movie parts are less interesting, this is most likely because these scenes were created when the script was written to take it from an account of interviews to a story with narrative that could make a film and did not have anything to do with the book, so did not have that extra source of material to call from and for me this was felt.

Right next up, the cast, this is a really good cast, I walked into the showing expecting good work from them and I was not disappointed, they are all good actors, they work well together, have good chemistry, but you expect that from a cast like this, Jeff Bridges is one of my all time favourite actors.

After a short amount of time into the movie I got the hang of the characters and I was convinced I was going to see good work out of the main cast, this is because Clooney, McGregor, Bridges and Spacey are playing characters that they have down pat through past movies, Clooney, O Brother Where Art Thou, Bridges, The Big Lebowski, McGregor, Deception.

In closing The Men Who Stare at Goats does not re-invent the wheel so to speak, but better than average, I found the movie funny, worth my time and ticket charge, if a little lacking in areas.

GS Reviewer: Glen Davies

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