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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Men Who Stare at Goats

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Jacqueline Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The Men Who Stare at Goats

At first glance you might think, what perverts! All too soon you’ll discover that the staring has a purpose other than lascivious mischief. It’s mind control, folks, practiced by none other than the formidable U.S. Army.

Ann Arbor newspaper reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan MacGregor) has a failed marriage and a wanderlust. He comes upon an unbelievable but allegedly true tale of a secret military detail dedicated to the study of New Age techniques and non-lethal weaponry designed to telepathically infiltrate enemy lines, stop a beating heart and describe the contents of file cabinets, among other things. These “warrior monks” were known as the New Earth Army and coalesced during the early 1980’s.

While in Kuwait, Wilton meets and accompanies the New Earth Army’s (NEA) former star pupil, Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) on a mission to find the NEA’s founder - now missing - Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) a Viet Nam veteran whose enlightenment we are shown in rapid-fire flashbacks (how appropriate). These include naked hot tub encounters, colonics, meditation, and the belief in one’s ability to sail through a wall like a ghost. Django founds and heads the NEA, dedicated to world peace, with the army’s blessing.

Well, actually under the watchful eye of General Hopgood (Stephen Lang) not so successful at running through walls himself, but hey, America has to beat the Russians at this mind control thing.

Cassady’s own training with Django twenty years hence includes dancing, firewalking, psychotropic drugs and mind exercises. Fellow recruit Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) is jealous of the talented Cassady, and now twenty years later, runs a renegade unit of “mind men”, complete with its own stable of goats. Cassady‘s quest to find Django leads him and Wilton to Hooper, who is the necessary character in every film about power who wants to use it in an evil way. All this takes place in 2002 Iraq.

Based on the 2004 Jon Ronson book detailing the true story of a group of Army men engaged in such psychic experimentation, one must allow for the great liberties that have been taken here, and you’ll have a hard time believing these guys were permitted to parade around the military compound in such flagrant contrast to the testosterone-filled curriculum.

Director Grant Heslov (producer/co-writer Good Night and Good Luck) makes his feature directing debut by going for the absurd. There’s not a lot of plot to speak of and the ending just seems to fizzle out. The old standard tune, “Is That All There is?” came to mind, providing its own answer: “then, let’s keep dancing.”

Surely, Bill Django would approve.

Ewan McGregor as the bewildered Wilton, supplies all of the reaction that’s expected of the audience. He’s the disbelief, the skepticism, and finally the acceptance. His task and he does it well, it to react to weird events with an amusing bewilderment. He also had to endure the men referring to themselves as “Jedi.” To him - Ewan McGregor. That’s pretty telepathic right there; or at least a calculated in-joke.

George Clooney and Jeff Bridges are intensely believable as mind altered militants, playing it straight despite their wacky surroundings. Spacey is a bit clichéd as goat-boy gone wrong Hooper. Stephen Lang’s failed wall attempt illustrates Army logic gone AWOL.

The Men Who Stare at Goats should have been more amazing than amusing. I felt at times that the Jedi gaze had been turned on me, and while my heart didn’t stop, an insistent narcolepsy descended. I stopped caring about what was going to happen. If the psychics didn’t even know, how was I supposed to?


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