The Men Who Stare at Goats is loosely based on the 2004 book of the same name. The book contains numerous factual accounts of the U.S. Army experimenting with paranormal and New Age methods, while the film features a linear plot with the same elements. Ewan McGregor plays Bob Wilton, a journalist from Ann Arbor, Michigan, that decides to head to Iraq to impress his wife after she leaves him for her editor.
George Clooney plays Lyn Cassady, a soldier that Bob meets along the way. Lyn is also a psychic, but he refers to himself as a Jedi. Star Wars jokes abound in this film and while I'm sure they existed at the screenplay stage, they no doubt got ramped up after McGregor joined the cast. He is Obi-Wan Kenobi, after all. The jokes seem to follow the Family Guy method of comedy: bombard the audience and run it into the ground, and then keep going until you come out the other side and it's not only funny again, it's funnier than it was before. The writers obviously had a blast with this.
Bob meeting Lyn sets off a very bizarre series of events involving a psychic on a very important mission that he knows almost nothing about. George Clooney is a master at work here, but the entire cast is wonderful. Ewan McGregor lifts Bob beyond the simple straight man role, Jeff Bridges is very likable as the leader of the New Earth Army, and Kevin Spacey is downright detestable, which is something Spacey does very well. Stephen Lang, who recently played Colonel Quaritch in Avatar, is absolutely hilarious as the gullible General Hopgood, who actually kicks off the film with a very funny scene.
As Bob and Lyn make their way through Iraq, we flashback to Lyn's beginnings in the New Earth Army as Bob composes his article. We get to see how a new age movement took hold in the military and the trials and tribulations it went through. It's all very surreal considering it's not completely ficticious. This obviously isn't what Bob had in mind when he came to Iraq to cover the war, but in most ways, it all worked out for the better.
Structurally, the films suffers from feeling disjointed. The pacing is up and down as the characters plow through radically different scenes and the tone feels a bit inconsistent at times. For a while in the middle of the film, I had no idea what was going on and I get the feeling the writers were just as confused at this point. But while all of this may hurt the film as a whole, every individual scene is well done and very enjoyable, they just might not fit that well together. And when you finally reach the end of the third act, you'll wonder how the hell you got there from the beginning of the journey. But this is also when you realize that the journey itself was more important than the destination.
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