“More of this is true than you’d believe” –opening credits for The Men Who Stare At Goats. Irreverent, sarcastic, and funny as hell, The Men Who Stare At Goats is based on a non-fiction book by Jon Ronson. Ronson is a journalist who stumbled upon a secret military group that was formed in 1979 specifically to harness paranormal and psychic powers to use in warfare. The men in this group were training to become “psychic warriors” who could walk through walls, read thoughts, and kill someone just by staring at them.
Ewan McGregor plays Ronson in the movie. His wife has just left him (for his one-armed boss), and he has no sense of purpose. He goes to interview a man who claims that he used to be in a psychic military unit. His story is so crazy that Ronson writes him off as being a kook. He decides to go to the Middle East to cover the Gulf War, partly to impress his ex-wife, and partly because he has nothing to lose.
Upon arrival, he runs into Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) who just happens to be one of the people mentioned by name by the crazy man he just interviewed in the states. Astonished by the coincidence, he starts tagging along with Lyn pleading with him to tell the truth about whether he was in the secret unit. Bit by bit, Lyn tells the story (through flashbacks) of the formation and eventual disintegration of the military unit known as the “New Earth Army” in military circles. The story finally leads up to what Lyn is doing in the Middle East.
He says that he has been reinstated, and is on a secret mission. Naturally Jon tags along for an adventure of a lifetime. Between car wrecks, dehydration, near shootings and kidnappings, Lyn slowly lets his story unfold.
Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) was a military man who left the service, and promptly immersed himself in the New Age movement. After doing copious amounts of drugs and letting his freak flag fly for a bit, he has a revelation. He heads back to the military and actually convinces the powers to be that he can train soldiers to hone latent psychic abilities, resulting in a new kind of soldier.
Unbelievably, they agree to let him try. The training sessions are absolutely hysterical, as Django uses flowers, dance, yoga and hugs to instruct his ranks. Watching a man in camouflage practice yoga and breathing poses is jarring, and ironic. A petty fellow trainee (played by Kevin Spacey) is jealous of Lyn’s superior abilities, and stirs up trouble in the unit, leading to their eventual dissolution.
The first hour of The Men Who Stare At Goats zips by at furious pace. I found it absolutely fascinating, and one of the funniest movies that I have seen this year. Unfortunately, it loses that great pacing and kind of unravels in the third act, which is too bad, because the first two-thirds is so enjoyable. The movie veers into silly satire and loses its biting humor in that last bit.
First time director Grant Heslov (who previously wrote Good Night, and Good Luck) doesn’t completely nail it, but he certainly shows some potential. George Clooney is always reliable, but he is fantastic here, I cannot think of anyone better suited to the role. McGregor plays off of Clooney well, and at times the movie really feels like a buddy flick. Jeff Bridges is very good as well, with his braided ponytail, Indian jewelry, and flowery words of peace, he personifies a pseudo- New Age guru type. I like to think that everyone had a blast making this movie. It certainly looked like it.
Based on my bit of quick research seems to be some evidence corroborating the events depicted in the movie. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but I’ve got to believe that there is an awful lot that goes on behind closed doors, particularly in the military. I’m not saying that anyone actually walked through walls, but I bet they tried.