Disclosure: we haven’t read the book The Men Who Stare At Goats by the journalist Jon Ronson which this film directed by Grant Heslov is based on. We have, therefore, reviewed The Men Who Stare At Goats as just a film, rather than pretending to have read the book.
George Clooney (enlightened), Jeff Bridges (ex-enlightened), Ewan McGregor (searching), Kevin Spacey (power-hungry)
What’s it about?
The US Army’s attempts since 1979 to use psychic powers to help them win wars. It follows journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) who, after breaking up with his wife, goes to Iraq to try war reporting. He bumps into Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), an ex-soldier in the US Army’s supposedly telepathic New Earth Army: a troupe that likes nothing better than passing cleanly through walls and killing goats by staring at them. Wilton follows Cassady into Iraq on an unknown mission, during which time Cassady explains the New Earth Army’s origins after the Vietnam War. This includes tales of their pot-smoking, long-haired, Jedi-obsessed hippy leader Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), their spoon-bending, power-hungry nemesis Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) and an explanation of their beliefs that wars can be fought and won using telepathy, the paranormal, hallucinogenic drugs, chanting and dancing instead of guns. It climaxes at an Army prison camp in the Iraq desert where everything collapses into surreal, LSD-induced mayhem that includes 100 de-bleated goats and Barney the Dinosaur.
What’s good about it?
The concept of fighting a war with mind games is funny. Have a little think about it. You’re giggling. Much of The Men Who Stare At Goats (we’re not sure how much) is non-fiction, and the film opens with a quote from Grant Heslov that says: “More of this is true than you believe.” If George W Bush and numerous presidents before him really were spending loads of time and money training soldiers to win wars with brain power alone, then a better topic for a film doesn’t exist. Trouble is, you never find out if he was or not.
What’s bad about it?
Given the cast and the premise, it’s nowhere near as amusing, engaging or exciting as it should be. And as satirical war films go it doesn’t come close to any of In The Loop, Dr Strangelove, Apocalypse Now, Team America or Tropic Thunder. When it’s funny it’s very funny, but it’s far too sporadic. Jeff Bridges outshines his way-more-Hollywood co-stars in his most stoned performance since The Big Lebowski, but the film ends without you knowing if you’ve just watched the greatest wartime revelation of all time, or a wacky comedy with some incredibly famous actors thinking they’re funnier than they are.
Time to read the book, just in case we’re missing something. But we suspect we’ll still think it’s a shame that The Men Who Stare At Goats didn’t make the most of a damn entertaining conspiracy theory.
BONUS! WORLD EXCLUSIVE JEFF BRIDGES CLIP: