The Men Who Stare at Goats
Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a struggling reporter for a small-town newspaper. After his wife leaves him for his one-armed boss, he heads to Iraq to prove his worth by covering the war. While in Kuwait waiting for his travel visa to go through, he encounters Lyn Cassady (Geroge Clooney). Wilton recognizes Cassady from a story he wrote that covered Cassady’s involvement in a secret government program called the New Earth Army headed by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). Wilton begins following Cassady on his “new mission” in order to get deeper insight on what Cassady calls “The Jedi.” The Jedi are psychic spies trained to use their mental powers to walk through walls, travel outside their body (a process called “remote viewing”) and stop the heart of their enemies (or that of a goat).
The Men Who Stare at Goats is an incredibly entertaining movie that gracefully straddles the line between hilarity and conspiracy theory nonsense. While I love a good conspiracy theory and was hoping that the movie would delve more into the psychic aspects of its plot line, the movie’s focus is on the basic human question “How can we find something meaningful in this life?”
Bob Wilton is desperate to make something of himself and prove to his cheating wife (and everyone else) that he is worth a damn—but he doesn’t know how to do that. He meets Lyn Cassady, a seemingly crazed psycho. At the outset of their relationship, Wilton takes only a journalistic interest in Cassady and wants to use him to (a) get a good story and (b) get into Iraq. He quickly finds himself moved by Cassady’s conviction in his beliefs about psychic powers—a conviction that Wilton himself has never experienced about anything.
The movie’s power comes from the two men’s drive to do something meaningful in the world. Cassady left the New Earth Army years before, when it was defunded, and he wants to get it back—that’s why he’s in Iraq. He’s desperate to reinvigorate himself with the work that he used to find so enriching. Wilton doesn’t know how to do something meaningful but is desperate to find out how—Cassady teaches him to do just that.
This movie should have been directed by the Coen brothers. It struck me as reminiscent of The Big Lebowski and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? You probably won’t be peeing your pants with laughter at this movie. If you don’t enjoy situational or character-driven humor then you won’t like it. There’re a few cheap laughs and slapstick moments scattered throughout the movie. But for the most part, expect the humor to come from Cassady and the New Earth Army’s unwavering faith in the ridiculous ideas they practice.
Jeff Bridges stood out to me with his performance as an army man who turns into a hippie. Towards the end of the movie we see his character’s mind destroyed by alcohol and drugs. His portrayal of a broken man who finds himself capable of one last triumphant act is incredible. George Clooney excels once again in a humorous role. Ewan McGregor is excellent as the hapless reporter who finally grows a pair.