January 20, 2010

Of Goats and Men


After watching a Jon Ronson TV interview, I was curious to see The Men Who Stare at Goats. It is based on his non-fiction book that claims the U.S. military trained and used psychic spies in the '70s, with some of the techniques getting resurrected during George W. Bush's War on Terror. Political satire, Jedi warriors, New Ageism, conspiracy theories---what's not to like?

Our stand-in for Mr. Ronson is Bob Wilton: a newly divorced, down-on-his-luck writer who meets Lyn Cassady (a wide-eyed, goofy, earnest, mustachioed George Clooney) in Kuwait at the start of the 2nd Gulf War. Mr. Cassady was one of the more gifted members of the New Earth Army, now a contractor in Iraq (and dance studio owner back in the States). And as a Star Wars fan, I have to admit that part of the draw was seeing Ewan McGregor look incredulous as Mr. Clooney's character explained all things Jedi to Obi-Wan himself. The duo make their way to Iraq to complete a secret mission he psychically received from the First Earth Battalion's former leader, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges channeling one of his most famous characters, The Dude). Kevin Spacey plays Larry Hooper, a felonious member of the Jedi army. Pretty one dimensional as a character, he is jealous of Cassady's powers and seeks to discredit his own group.

The film is bizarre, and Lynn and I found it wonderfully amusing. Despite the outrageous situations the characters find themselves in, it manages to take a swipe at the military, greedy corporations and the government. I read a review questioning how the filmmakers dare to take potshots at the military while 2 wars are raging. I do not share this criticism. The most poignant scenes in the movie are when Django comes home from Vietnam wanting an alternative way to fight a war; when Cassady goes to the Army and finds he belongs there, and when an Iraqi named Mahmud helped out so-called enemies, the Americans Cassady and Wilton. While the movie is clearly kooky, I didn't think it disrespected servicemen and women at all. Although I think the ending was totally made-up, the movie's message of tapping into people's basic goodness, finding yourself and fulfilling your potential came through.

The film opens by saying that "more of this is true than you will believe." And the premise is so ludicrous, I'd be terribly disappointed if it weren't true.


The DVD comes out 23 March 2010.

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