Men Who Stare
some of us, even grown out of childhood, the belief that
we could do something to kick in our superpowers makes for
a great fantasy. We may go to our graves believing that
if only we'd found the right combination of hormones, radioactivity
and gamma rays, something would have happened. Actually,
that may be WHY we go to our graves.
Most people, however, have accepted that
we are what we are. Those people do not stare at goats.
In a title card for Grant Heslov's The
Men Who Stare At Goats, the filmmaker warns that more
of this is true than you might think. Since most people
would laugh at the concepts, Heslov and his star/producer
George Clooney have made this into a farce - the right kind
that will make you wince wondering just how much the historical
people involved actually took seriously.
All of it gets viewed through the eyes
of Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a small-time reporter trying
to piece his life back together by going into Iraq. Fate
- or some Force greater - throws him into a chance meeting
with Lyn Cassaday (Clooney) at a hotel in Kuwait.
Months earlier, Wilton had interviewed
Gus Lacey (Stephen Root), a man claiming to have developed
psychic powers as part of a special branch of the army.
Lacey had identified Cassaday as the most powerful of those
soldiers of the New Earth Army.
Thus Wilton ends up on a strange odyssey
with Cassaday, who himself is convinced that he must take
Wilton on and train him in the ways of the Jedi Warrior.
Yes, there's no small irony in McGregor being utterly clueless
as he becomes an unlikely Paduwan, and one does have to
wonder if Lucas could sue the U.S. Military for appropriating
his terminology. But that is what the Pentagon tried
to produce in the eighties, and Heslov even accurately recreates
their training guide/bible for the film.
From time to time, the film flashes back
to show the history of this training, starting with Jeff
Bridges as the founder of the New Earth Army, Bill Django.
(Names are changed to protect - well, who knows what the
innocent might do if they were offended - they can burst
clouds, after all.)
Through most of it, Heslov walks a very
tricky line. Cassaday might be crazy in believing in his
superpowers; on the other hand, things sure seem to go his
way a lot. Except when they don't. It's no wonder that Wilton
can't decide for himself, either.
At least, until the end. Much of The
Men Who Stare At Goats is pretty funny, in a rather
loopy way. However, Heslov has to tie it all together with
historical events we do accept, which leads to a messy denouement
that almost undoes the whole thing.
Like so much in life, The Men Who Stare
At Goats wants to have its cake and eat it, too, and
that just undermines the whole thing. For two-thirds of
the movie we have a great romp, and then it just slows down
into paranoia, not all that intriguing intrigue, and an
attempt to judge without actually judging.
So it's not as good as it promises to be.
We're not quite sure how we should feel, though everyone
involved is acting at the top of their game. It's a shame,
because the world needs Jedi Warriors now more than ever.