"More of this is true than you would believe."
With those words we are introduced to the potentially real world of psychic spies who possess and hone skills that allow them to see the other side of the world, walk through walls, get into the heads of their enemies, and kill goats by just staring at them (this could take hours). The Men Who Stare at Goats chronicles the real adventures of journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) who was simply looking to make a name for himself in the early days of the war.
Bob Wilton is a reporter for a daily newspaper in Ann Arbor. He is assigned to interview a local man who claims to have been a member of a special arm of the military that focused on psychic abilities. He tells him of a man named Lyn Cassady, the top agent in their unit, and shows him video of a hamster being killed with the powers of the mind.
Wilton writes him off as a loony and soon heads to Afghanistan in the hopes of furthering his career. However, he is unable to get into Iraq where all of the action is. This is when fate steps in to take him on an adventure he will not likely forget.
He bumps into Cassady (George Clooney), purely by chance, in Afghanistan. Together, the two journey into war-torn Iraq in search of Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), the founder of the psychic soldiers. Together, they find themselves in all manner of scrapes where Lyn uses his "abilities" to rescue them, while Wilton tries to keep himself alive, all the while learning about Django through flashback. We get a front row seat to the ponytailed, Lebowski-esque Django as he leads his men as part of the New World Army, dancing, meditating, taking hallucinogens, and passing it all off as serious military work.
When it comes right down to it, The Men Who Stare at Goats is a road movie with McGregor playing the straight man to everyone else. It is amusing to watch as Clooney's Cassady tells of his Jedi ways to McGregor, who has played a Jedi in three films. What does it all mean? That is for you to decide. Frankly, I am not so sure it really means anything. Would it surprise me to find out that everything is true and the government was/is trying to train paranormal soldiers? No, not really. I would not put any craziness past what those in power are willing to try.
The movie floats by on the oddball actions of its characters, from Cassady's complete belief in his abilities, to Hooper (Kevin Spacey) despising him for it, to Django and his desire to further the program, to Wilton's perpetual amazement at what he is experiencing. Unfortunately, the film never really takes off. It is like they put the story on repeat where something weird happens to amaze Wilton, then goes through the motions over and over again.
This is not movie that I believe will have a long shelf life. It is fun while you watch it and it does not require much from the audience. I know I left the theater with a smile on my face. It is just that in short order the warm feelings go away and are replaced with something more along the line of: "What did I just see?"
It helps that the cast has bought into their characters. What could have easily turned into dumb comedy retains a few shards of intelligence allowing the absurdity to shine through in how seriously it is all played.
Director Grant Heslov does a good job of keeping it all moving forward. The pacing does not slow down much, intent on keeping some level of absurdity on the screen at all times, lest you begin to give any of it deep thought.
Bottom line. I enjoyed it. In retrospect it comes off as a rather lightweight and insubstantial. It does offer some interesting thoughts on where some of our military spending may be going. The performances all hold up and the look is pretty good. It is worth checking out, just do not expect any deep thoughts afterward.