Author: Jack Greenbaum and Mandla Gobledale
“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is the first of three George Clooney movies coming out this Oscar season, and while this one was not without its merits, overall, the film disappoints.
The films tells the story of the unlikely pairing of Bob Wilton, played by Ewan McGregor, and Lyn Cassady, played by George Clooney, as they take a bizarre road trip through the Iraqi desert.
Cassady claims to be an Army-trained Jedi warrior, master of the Psychic arts, and Wilkin, a reporter who has recently separated from his wife, tags along for the adventure, out to prove to himself that he is not a failure.
As the story unfolds, we see flashbacks of Cassady’s training, which, led by the funny (yet clichéd) casting choice of Jeff Bridges, lends some insight into alternative Army practices. There is a prologue at the beginning of the film that says, “More of this is true than you would believe,” and while this may be accurate, the story itself was ridiculously weak.
We were hoping the film would shed light on the use of paranormal techniques in the army, but we walked out at the end feeling unenlightened. The film is about the military employment of psychic powers, yet little of that is displayed.
Clooney’s performance is strong as he harnesses the wacky, zany and bizzare persona of someone who sincerely believes he has supernatural powers. Every one of his actions is sufficiently justified by the insanity of the character. However, the actions and performance of McGregor as Wilton are not.
Early in the film, Wilton feels inadequate in his life and wants to experience adventure, therefore justifying his eagerness to tag along with Cassady.
Yet, once Wilton starts to figure out that the mission is a farce, he continues to go along with Cassady. At this point, the audience questions the validity of Wilkin’s character motivations, or at the very least, his sanity. The rest of the film spirals into an absurdist romp with no real objective or resolution in sight.
The richest material in the film is found in the military-psychic-training flashbacks. A montage of Bridges’ character “turning hippie” is amusing, and his over-the-top attempt to bring a “peaceful and loving” element to war is ironically comical.
The attempts to train his men in the art of mind control and other mental powers increase the absurdity as he builds a network of “peaceful warriors.” But again, as a viewer its hard to tell what, if anything, is real.
The film itself looks good, has a rather entertaining soundtrack, and moves along for the first two-thirds. Unfortunately, the last third of the film leaves the audience waiting for a climax that never comes.
The idiosyncrasy of Lyn Cassady propels the film, but as the end approaches, he gives up and so do the viewers. Director Grant Heslov’s debut is vaguely coherent but a classic war farce it is not.
Mandla: Clooney is clearly the man. He is hot, funny, hot, witty and funny. He just had no support and the dialogue was iffy. I didn’t read the book, but maybe you should if you have any interest in this story.
Jack: Watching “Men Who Stare at Goats” is a lot like staring at actual goats: It’s awkward and laughable at times, but inevitably your interest wanes, the goats gets tired and so do you.
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