08
Dec
09

Movie Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats

Keep staring.

Stars Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey. Directed by Grant Heslov.

It’s more of a “journey of life” movie than a statement on a Top Secret program on remote viewing, but here goes:

Bob Wilton (McGregor) is a reporter for a newspaper in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 2002 he interviews a “crackpot” named Gus Lacey (Stephen Root) who does two things: shows him a videotape where he causes a hamster to pass out for a few minutes by staring at it and informs him that he was part of a Top Secret, government-funded program on remote viewing. For the metaphysics-challenged, remote viewing involves a person sitting in a room to be able to see where and what someone in another locale, possibly thousands of miles away, is doing and describe it all in detail. Wilton doesn’t believe in it and shelves the idea in the back of his head.

Some time later Wilton’s world falls apart: his wife leaves him for his editor who happens to have a mechanical arm. Feeling about an inch tall and wanting, nay needing, to prove something to the world he travels to Iraq to get in and cover a story. And he sits. And waits.

Calvinism and destiny intertwine and he meets Lyn Cassady (Clooney). Cassady was mentioned by Lacey as the Numbero Uno Psychic of the Top Secret Program called New Earth. “We prefer to call ourselves Jedi warriors,” he tells Wilton. It seems that New Earth was began by another man, Bill Django (Bridges). Django was on tour in VietNam when he took a bullet to his chest. He dies, crosses to the other side, and comes back. Seeing how the soldiers in the field weren’t wanting to kill for Uncle Sam he proposes a study which takes him on a quest of sex, drugs, and enlightenment. Upon return he releases an instruction manual on how peace can be attained without actual fighting but by using the powers of the mind. This is further helped by a Brigadier General Dean Hopgood (Stephen Lang) who wants to see the program created because the Russians supposedly have a program already in place to psychically screw with the minds of our country’s leadership. The program is set in motion and Django begins.

Cassady becomes the star of the group, being able to remote view better than everyone else with the exception of Larry Hooper(Spacey), another “Jedi warrior” that holds dominance over everyone but Cassady. Problems begin when the remote viewers have wrong conclusions (one says that Angela Lansbury knew the location of Manuel Noriega) and one of Hooper’s experiments lead to an officer taking his own life, the project is shut down. Cassady is currently in the Middle East on a secret mission that Wilton is never sure what it is.

Wilton never knows quite what to make or believe from Cassady who seems more Jedi reject than Jedi warrior with the exception that Cassady knows how to fight. The two become well-enough friends and go from situation to situation never sure of what’s coming next. Whatever Cassady is expecting to do or to find, Wilton is along for the ride.

I liked the movie. This is one of those difficult to sell because while it does mention psychic research programs I have heard of, the overall objective for the story is for the main character to achieve something with his life. If the movie were just about the programs it would’ve been one thing but this has the New Earth information in flashbacks while Cassady and Wilton are doing whatever they’re doing and that structure leaves something missing from the movie. I wished it was more straight-forward than the journey it really was, but that’s probably a minor gripe.

McGregor is believable but not as much as Clooney. The again Clooney is the variable and McGregor is the “everyman” constant, so it does work better that way. Bridges doesn’t channel The Dude from “The Big Lebowski” as much as he shows a variant of that personality. Spacey doesn’t do a lot for me to really expound upon.

Did this research really happen? I’m inclined to believe that it did but not entirely in the manner shown in the movie. With truth often being stranger than fiction, I could be completely wrong. With a culture that had 9 seasons hinged on the fact that The Truth Is Out There, why not? Can someone stare at a goat and make its heart stop? Can someone thousands of miles away read my To Do list just by imagining it? Interesting stuff to think about.

There’s a big “inside joke” with the whole “Jedi warrior” thing. Cassady has to explain to Wilton what one is, etc. This is a play on the fact that McGregor was in the “Star Wars” prequels. Also, his newspaper editor had a mechanical arm, which may also have been a “joke” on the series.

Do I recommend this one? I liked it and there were a few really funny parts. I suggest “rental.” Or matinée on a slow weekend afternoon. I did like it but not enough to watch it more than once a year.

If you go, watch for Robert Patrick as an American contractor. Great bit.

My grade: B-

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