To say that The Men Who Stare at Goats is a quirky movie will be a gross understatement. There's a strong underlying anti-war message and the popular, contemporary enviromental reminder featured heavily in the narrative, topped by generous loads of humour and a great cast to boot. It has to be seen to be believed just how crazy Peter Straughan's screenplay based upon the book by Jon Ronson can be, and therein lies the fun in the willingness of director Grant Heslov to experiment with such a film.
And speaking of experiments, the film supposedly takes on a true account - I'm still standing on that side of the fence that the events portrayed are too insane to be true - that chronicles the attempts by the US Army to develop a contingent of super soldiers with psychic abilities, where wars can be avoided by the collective will of their super beings to avert conflict through mind tricks and will power, while spreading the message of hippie love over senseless hatred. Generously funded, most of the fun came from the series of flashbacks where we get front row seats to some of the most absurd training techniques used by an armed forces.
There are enough jokes and references to Star Wars, its Jedi Knights and power akin to The Force that makes it all the more side-splitting when there is Ewan McGregor in a leading role expressing cluelessness about what they all mean. If I may say so, there's a moment where he's supposed to scoff at with disbelief, but let out a quick smile at being aware of just what they're about. After all, the actor had played one of the greatest Jedi Knights there is in George Lucas' trilogy prequels of the space opera. It is precisely these kinds of "wink-wink" opportunities that will put an enlightened audience clearly in the driver's seat to enjoy what else the film has to offer.
Starring opposite Ewan McGregor's reporter role Bob Wilton, is George Clooney's super psychic Lyn Cassady who once had worked under the super soldier programme, and had risen to the top, until his retirement from the force. Clooney is simply superb in the role of a man who takes the absurd very seriously, being on one hand what looks like a serious case of delusion, and yet on the other have enough proof displayed that there's really more than meets the eye to his so-called abilities. Seeing Clooney for the first time in shoulder length hair with that clueless, dogged determination, is already well worth the ticket price.
Other notables in its star studded cast includes Jeff Bridges as Bill Django, the unorthodox founder of the New Earth Army techniques, whose bewildering concept of the new super soldier got accepted by the Army, which begins that journey of laughter where actual training is nothing short of hilarious. Kevin Spacey takes on the conniving role as an envious new recruit to the programme, and in some ways, there are some local parallels to how father figures get ousted unceremoniously from their pedestal of power when a protege decides to turn against the hand that had fed them. Spacey being Spacey, performs this role with aplomb.
There are enough random occurrences in the film that builds up the story and with each tells a little bit more about the characters, so while on one hand it's fun and laughter, on the other it calls for some patience as the characters wander through Iraq for Bob's search for his own destiny in life. What I had also enjoyed from the film is how it ties in with actual, reported attempts of non-lethal weapon research, and while I don't condone it, having to listen to Barney's theme song the whole day, is one cruel way to torture enemy combatants.
Be warned though that this may not be everyone's cup of tea, especially if you're adamant about having a structured narrative from beginning to end, or feel that a running joke (the Star Wars ones that is) cannot be carried out for far too long.