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Friday
Nov062009

The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats is a title that perfectly encapsulates, and sets the tone for, the latest George Clooney movie. By simply looking at the odd name, you wouldn't know what it is really about. Having now seen it, I'm still not so sure. It's not a confusing movie. It's just so damn weird. This, dear readers, is not your typical cinema going experience.

The movie opens with the text insisting that, "More of this is true than you would believe," and it's right. Ewan McGregor plays Bob, a journalist in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His wife has just left him so he, as he puts it, "goes to war," though what he goes through isn't quite what you'd envision as "war." While in Kuwait, he meets Lyn Cassady, played by George Clooney, a super spy trained by US Army Intelligence. As Lyn tells him, the military has a secret organization of soldiers who are being trained in paranormal abilities and the branch is called "Project Jedi." Originally started by Bill Django, played by Jeff Bridges, it was put into place to attempt to win wars through peace, not violence. Though skeptical, Bob goes with Lyn to Iraq and he discovers things he never would have believed to be true.

Essentially, this is a based-on-actual-events story about a branch of the military who claims to be able to see into the future, know where people are just by looking at a picture and kill with their minds. How much of this is true? I don't know. The realist in me wants to say none, but God knows the government has done crazier things. I'm certain nobody actually has psychic abilities, but the government doing something stupid? That doesn't seem so far fetched.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is like a wave at its peak before it comes crashing down. It starts out powerful, carving out a funny niche in the cinematic landscape in its own quirky way, but as it goes on, its force dwindles. At one point, it stops being interesting. At another, it stops being funny. And at another, it stops being quirky and crosses the line into insipidity, climaxing in an Army LSD trip out, which is moderately amusing, but offers a poor conclusion to this frivolous story.

Although none of its ideas fully come around, this movie is, if anything, a parody of our actual government and military, who talk of efforts to create peace, but then go to war as a means to achieve it. It's a contradictory philosophy and this movie hypothesizes, what if the military actually tried to create peace by actually implementing peaceful methods?

Later in the movie, the idea of men having a natural bloodlust is brought up, as evidenced by a late scene where Lyn is asked to kill a goat with his mind. Although he doesn't want to, he can feel the goat's pulse within him and he wants to see if he can do it, and he does. But again, it never follows through. At the end of the film, all I could wonder was, what was the point of this thing?

Is it a spoof? Is it a satire? Or is it none of the above? I couldn't tell. Luckily, I still found the writing to be witty, at least for a while. Though funny, the whole of the experience is uneven because its oddball tone doesn't carry through the entire picture. Even at a brisk 96 minutes, it runs out of steam.

Given the name of the secret military branch, "Project Jedi," and one of the stars of the movie, Ewan McGregor, you can expect a myriad of lame Star Wars jokes that completely shatter your suspension of disbelief and pull you out of the film. Although the whole Jedi thing makes sense narratively (the super spies having similar powers to the Jedis in the Star Wars films), when you have McGregor, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III, recite lines of dialogue like, "The force is strong with this one," you've become too self aware and cross a line into annoyance.

Still, the acting is sharp, particularly Clooney, who plays a character wackier than any he's played before and he manages to elicit laughs through the simplest visual cues, like a subtle flinch of an eye. He does a marvelous job.

However, The Men Who Stare at Goats is not recommendable. Had it ended with a decent laugh or had a few minutes trimmed off the back-end, I might have been more inclined to give it my endorsement, but as it stands, the movie falls just shy of reaching that coveted threshold.

The Men Who Stare at Goats receives 2.5/5

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