The Men Who Stare At Goats opens with a line of text claiming that “more of [the film] is true than you would believe.” Take it as you will, but I’m going to believe it. In the early ’80s, the government put together a secret program (called the First Earth Battalion) training psychic spies – or as George Clooney’s character Lyn Cassady refers to them, “Jedi Warriors.” They were a group of odd men who (supposedly) possessed psychic abilities. They were used to track the locations of hostage soldiers, trained to pass through walls and kill with their minds – which is where the film gets it title. They were taught to kill goats with their minds by staring at them with intense concentration.
The film picks up with reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan MacGregor, who coincidentally played famous Jedi warrior O.B. Wan in the Star Wars prequels) trying to get into Iraq with press credentials in 2003. Upon meeting and befriending Lyn – a former “Jedi Warrior” – Bob decides to travel with him and uncover the unique story of the government’s First Earth Battalion program from twenty years prior. The film jumps back and forth from Bob and Lyn’s road trip through war-ridden Iraq and Lyn’s retelling of his origins, those of the program and his involvement.
The best parts of The Men Who Stare At Goats come from the performances. As always, MacGregor is average and Clooney is perfect for the role he’s in. Along with Clooney’s, the other real memorable performance comes from Jeff Bridges (The Dude from The Big Lebowski) as the hippie founder and creator of the “Jedi Warrior” program. Clooney is always great, but any time Bridges is on screen, he’s amazing.
Although The Men Who Stare At Goats is a fun and entertaining film, it’s not the great film the trailers make it out to be. Instead of laughs and sizzle, it’s chuckle and fizzle. The trailer is definitely funnier than the movie as a whole and the climax doesn’t pop like the build-up leads you to believe. Simply put, it’s good – not great. Worth watching as a matinée – not full price.
Photo credit: Overture Films