Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Men Who Stare at Goats Film Review

The Men Who Stare at Goats is a wild dark comedy about the excesses of military paranoia. The title comes from an exercise in which psychic soldiers stare at goats and attempt to kill them by stopping their hearts. The film is from a book of the same name by Jon Ronson which purports to be based on real events.

The film starts out with Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) interviewing what seems to be a crazy man (Stephen Root) who claims there was an army unit in the eighties designed to use paranormal powers. He claims the unit featured a powerful psychic named Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) who now runs a dance studio! Wilton dismisses the story until he runs off to Kuwait after a failed marriage during the 2003 Iraq war. While there he fortuitously runs into Cassady.

Cassady is there on a "secret" mission. After seeing a doodle that Wilton has drawn, Cassady believes that it is destiny for the two to come together. Cassady allows Wilton to accompany him into Iraq. While driving through the country, Cassady tells the story of the psychic army unit. It was formed after the Soviets started a similar unit when they thought the U.S. was trying to communicate with a submarine by paranormal means. The submarine story was false but the U.S. Army fearing to be left behind decided to start its own unit. Yes, that's right. The unit was formed from a bogus idea.

During the journey through Iraq, Cassady tells his story and through flashbacks we see the first commander of the psychic unit, Bill Django. (Jeff Bridges) The soldiers in the unit were part of the First Earth Battalion and called themselves Jedi Warriors. Django is seen as exploring all kinds of crazy New Age ideas to form a paranormal fighting force. These ideas include everything from dancing to yes, staring at goats to stop their hearts. Cassady reflects on his greatest feat. Using remote viewing, a way to psychically project yourself to another area of the universe, he finds the location of a kidnap victim. Unfortunately, another soldier, Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), in the unit becomes jealous and disagreeing with Django's views helps to dismantle the unit. But the journey through Iraq is the present part of the film. We find out that Cassady was directed into Iraq by remote viewing his mission. That mission is the goal of the story.

Written by Peter Straughan, the screenplay preserves the absurd ideas that Army was willing to waste time and money on. These goofy ideas, of course, make good jokes. You got to love the irony of Clooney's character talking about "Jedi Warriors" to Ewan McGregor's Bob when he played Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars movies. Grant Heslov's direction is crisp and he doesn't let some of the wild paranormal ideas take over the movie.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is an enjoyable and funny movie. It loses its way towards the end but it's still smart satire. The grade is B.

No comments: