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The Men Who Stare
At Goats

For 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.

Derek McCaw

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