Grant Heslov’s The Men Who Stare at Goats might just be this year’s comedic gem. Set at the beginning of the war in Iraq, the movie is based on actual events that are just too bizarre to believe.
When his wife leaves him, journalist Bob Wilton (a hilarious Ewan McGregor) does “what any man whose heart has been broken by a woman would do” &- he goes to war. While waiting for his next big story to dawn on him, Bob stumbles upon “super soldier” Lyn Cassady (an outstanding George Clooney), a former member of the U.S. Army’s First Earth Battalion. Bob follows Lyn and discovers that the Battalion taught soldiers how to solve missions with the help of their minds. Established in the 1980s by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges with flowers in his braided hair), the unit believed in peace and love and wanted to end war for good, by using the powers of their psyche. Bob is so intrigued by this absurdity that he decides to follow “Jedi warrior” Lyn on his secret mission. The movie is a mix of their journey through the desert, blended with stories about the First Earth Battalion’s golden years, and its eventual downfall shortly after the arrival of conniving Larry Hooper (sarcastically played by Kevin Spacey).
Heslov has the privilege of directing an excellent cast that is the glue that keeps The Men Who Stare at Goats together. The dialogue is full of priceless one-liners and Star Wars references that will stay with you even after the movie ends.
Don’t miss Clooney teaching McGregor how to burst clouds with a “sparkling” bulgy-eyed stare because it keeps him “in shape”.
The plot itself is a bit wobbly; the story seems rather underdeveloped at the expense of the characters. The jumping back and forth in time can be distracting, which weakens the movie as a whole. The film is reminiscent of Joseph Heller’s classic, Catch-22, in its attempt to criticize war by mocking authority. If Heslov was trying to prove a point with this film, he has done it very subtly. The abundance of great humour masks any layers of meaning beneath it, which may leave you scratching your head as to the true purpose of the film.
However, the charismatic actors and their Jedi ambitions are enough to keep you watching them read minds, pass through walls, and of course, stare at goats.