Asking for a ticket to see The Men Who Stare at Goats at the box office felt a little strange. This movie with an odd title, however, is definitely more than just a gimmicky name.
The Men Who Stare at Goats tells the story of reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), flying to Iraq to become an embedded journalist, on a mission to prove what he’s made of after his wife leaves him. In a hotel where he’s awaiting clearance to cross the border, Bob stumbles across the story of a lifetime when he shares a table with Lyn Cassady, a former member of the First Earth Army, a special U.S. Army unit specializing in the use of paranormal powers to prevent and solve conflict. As Bob tries not to get killed while Cassady drags him around on what he claims is a new mission demanding his psychic skills, he unravels the story of the rise and decline of the First Earth Army.
With a cast including George Clooney, Ewen McGregor, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey, there’s not much of a chance that the acting would be anything less than fantastic. Each actor takes on his strange character and produces a funny and convincing performance. As Cassady, Clooney is less charming than usual, but he strikes a good balance between making his character seem nuts and making you root for him. McGregor’s performance as Wilton carries the pace and the tone of the whole movie, and while he keeps control of the punch lines, he also makes his character compellingly befuddled. As the head of the First Earth Army, Bill Django, Jeff Bridges is funny and sensitive, but the performance is not much of a stretch based on his previous work. Finally, as Larry Hooper, the man who ruined the First Earth Army through his ambition, Kevin Spacey is outstanding as always. He is thoroughly slimy, but at other times also hilarious.
Still, even with a great cast, the movie could have been awful and contrived if it weren’t for the great script, written by Peter Straughan. The movie opens with the line “more of this is true than you’d think” and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor carries throughout most of the story. Through the voice of Bob Wilton as narrator, this irony is dry without being bitter and gives the movie a light, adventurous sense of humor that really worked for the story.
In addition to humor, this movie also includes a healthy dose of adventure, drama, and intrigue, combining elements of journalism-thrillers and war movies with what at times feels like a spoof of history. In some ways, it’s like a great war movie without any actual battles. It also feels political, but without any heavy or overt agenda pushing. This odd combination of ingredients works well and the story is quippy and interesting throughout.
The Men Who Stare at Goats has a great story, an awesome ensemble cast, an odd sense of humor, and a punchy soundtrack. The combination made for a really fun experience at the theater. I highly recommend going to see it and rate the movie four stars.
The Men Who Stare at Goats was written by Peter Straughan based on the book by Jon Ronson and directed by Grant Heslov. It runs 94 minutes and is rated R for language, some drug content, and brief nudity.
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