Sometimes when a movie claims to be based on a true story, it is painfully clear which parts were made up to make the film more interesting.
Sometimes when a movie claims to be based on a true story, it is painfully clear which parts were made up to make the film more interesting. When something unbelievable happens, we can all roll our eyes because there is no way it could ever really occur. In the case of The Men Who Stare at Goats,nothing but unbelievable events occur, but I could not tell you precisely what was real and what was not. The film opens not by telling us that it is based on a true story, but by stating “More of this is true than you would think.” It is impossible not to laugh at this film when you realize that any given scene may have actually happened.
The film focuses mainly on journalist Bob Wilton, as played by Ewan McGregor. Bob writes for a newspaper, is married to his college sweetheart, and basically lives the life he always thought he wanted. Despite this, he still does not feel satisfied. Part of him wants more excitement and bigger stories to write, but he cannot seem to get himself into the spirit to strive for such goals. He even has an opportunity for a story when he interviews a man who claims that the military trained him to be a psychic soldier. Bob dismisses the man as crazy, but he does remember the name Lyn Cassady, said to be the most powerful psychic to ever work for the American government. Before too long, Bob’s wife becomes tired of her life with Bob, and leaves him. In his desperate sadness, Bob decides to prove to his wife and himself that he is capable of more. He travels to Iraq to become a war correspondent and put himself at risk. He just so happens to also meet one Lyn Cassady.
We learn that Lyn, played by George Clooney, has been brought out of retirement and placed on a mission in Iraq. After speaking with Bob, Lyn believes there may be early signs of psychic power in him. He invites Bob along on the mission and tells him the history of the Jedi Warriors. As the pair run from kidnappers and terrorist and dodge in and out of firefights between feuding security companies, we learn about the people that shaped Lyn’s life. It turns out that psychic program in the military wound up turning into a feud between Bill Django, the programs founder, played by Jeff Bridges, and Larry Hooper, a powerful member of the troop who wanted to increase his abilities and develop more lethal offensive psychic abilities.
At many points, Jeff Bridges seems to be channeling his earlier role as The Dude from The Big Lebowski. It is fun to see him this way again, and his experience in a similar role makes his slacker hippy soldier all the more believable. The quality of Bridges’ performance is matched by Kevin Spacey as Larry Hooper. Spacey seems to have a thing for villains lately, and he definitely knows how to make himself coolly menacing. As Lyn explains to Bob, he was a follower of Django’s light side, but at times did find Hooper’s dark side enticing. He believes his own inner conflict put a curse on all the Jedi, and he needs Bob’s help to take a shot at redemption when his past finally catches up to him.
The film does offer a lot of laughs, but, unfortunately, the biggest ones did find their way into the trailer. Even the inadvertent joke of Ewan McGregor learning about Jedi Warriors is repeated multiple times through the film. McGregor is a great straight man for the film, but all the Jedi talk does actually become distracting. I would think someone must have questioned the idea of having an actor who played a major role in the Star Wars films also star in a film that references them so prominently.
All in all, The Men Who Stare at Goats is an enjoyable comedy. The film wonderfully blends off the wall nonsense comedy with factually based satire, and even though the best parts and the biggest laughs made it into the trailer, the sections in between those moments do not fail to entertain. When the biggest complaint about a comedy is a mildly distracting casting decision, that means it is a good one.
By Gareth Mussen