The Men Who Stare at Goats is based on a book by Jon Ronson of the same title, and judging by his track record—Ronson wrote books with titles like Out of the Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness and Them: Adventures With Extremists—it isn’t surprising that Heslov’s movie is an hour and a half of paranormal activity (or something like it) inside the U.S. Military. Bob Wilton (played by Ewan McGregor), at first searching for a way out of his heartbreak (his wife and college sweetheart leaves him for his one-armed editor), lands himself in uncanny situations that cannot possibly be real… or are they?
Bob begins his adventure in Kuwait City, where he runs into Lyn Cassady (played by George Clooney), who will ultimately be the link to the story behind the First Earth Battalion. When the Cassady-Wilton duo courageously ventures into the deserts of Iraq, the first big thing that happens is a car crash, and into a glaring boulder in the middle of the road, no less. Not to mention that the first “help” they acquire is a group of petty thugs that want to sell this clueless American pair. For Wilton’s first big adventure, he’s doing pretty great. Once he starts to glean out some of Cassady’s stories, however, he realizes that the U.S. Military isn’t as tough as it looks.
Meet Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), leader of the First Earth Battalion, who uses his “education” (if naked hot tub sessions count as education) to get his men in touch with Mother Earth. Lyn Cassady is Django’s main protégé, and when a fellow Battalion member, Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) enters their Garden of Eden, things go terribly amiss: Django gets a dishonorable discharge, and even worse, Cassady stares at a goat so intently that it drops dead. Lyn has thus traversed into the dark side, and to top it off, Larry taps him with the “death touch.” But not to worry; all ends well, with Bill’s vision of Timothy Leary, and some military breakfast laced with LSD. Thus Bob Wilton emerges, cured of his heartache, and in tune to his inner hippie.
The director of The Men Who Stare at Goats is Grant Heslov. This is his feature debut behind the camera, but not his first opportunity to join forces with Clooney. He co-wrote (with Clooney) and produced Good Night and Good Luck and filled similar producing duties for Leatherheads. The two men clearly know each other and work well together, and it shows in the easy way this movie unfolds. Heslov is not performing without a net. Who better than Clooney to lend a helping hand – a man who has learned from Soderbergh and the Coens and directed three films in his own right (two of which he collaborated with Heslov)?
George Clooney seems to have walked off the set of Burn After Reading and straight into this one: the expressions and the speech are identical. Comments on the acting aside, the laugh-out-loud moments are worth the psychedelic overload. The attention, however, appears to have gone mostly into the dialogue, and the audience knows all too well that dialogue alone does not carry a whole movie. If you’re looking for more reasons—as if there aren’t enough already—to scoff at our former president, look no further than The Men Who Stare at Goats. It’s always fun to make fun.
P.S. Warning to all hamster owners: remember to keep your furry friends away from glaring men.