' ' Cinema Romantico: The Men Who Stare At Goats

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Men Who Stare At Goats

Do you sometimes read a magazine article that recalls specific events in vivid detail? And at the end of the article you think, "Wow, that was really interesting. That was a lot of neat information." But you never really think about the people that were involved in all these events and details and information? This is how it felt watching "The Men Who Stare At Goats", based on a 2005 book by Jon Ronson serving up the tale of The New Age Army, a branch of the military specializing in the psychic and the paranormal.

Ewan McGregor is the journalist - named Dave Wilton in the film - who works for the Ann Arbor Telegram and as the film opens he finds his marriage going up in flames which leads to the age-old search for a life of meaning, of making a difference, and heads for Iraq to find a story worth telling, though it winds up being Iraq by way of Kuwait. This is because, as fate would have it, he happens upon a mysterious man named Lyn Cassady (a greasy moustached George Clooney), an ex member of the New Age Army who explains it was formed in the 80's as an answer to the Russians to develop superpowers such as mind reading and staring at poor goats until they merge with the infinite, at a Kuwait bar. Lyn was one of the best and, as fate would also have it, he is headed back into the thick of things in Iraq, allowing eager Dave to tag along, unaware of just what Lyn's true mission consists.

At the same time the film becomes an unorthodox training tale, flashing us back during Lyn and Dave's journey to see the formation of this New Age Army, founded by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), a Vietnam vet, and likely the only man in the armed services who knows all the words to "Truckin'". These men fancy themselves "Jedi Warriors", adherent to a code that is no doubt informal but also one in which they firmly believe. It's all humming along until the smarmy Luther Hooper (Kevin Spacey) enters the mix. He may be a good psychic but he's not as good as Lyn, and this fills him with a jealousy only the smarmiest men know.

There are all sorts of familiar cinematic elements at play here and the film slips and slides between comedy and drama, sometimes uneasily, the touch of director Grant Heslov not always assured. Much of the film's joy is derived from another rollicking performance by George Clooney. The Master of The Reaction Shot, he dials them back here since his character is more intent on fixated glares and stares than mugging. He wobbles convincingly between crazed sincerity and just crazed. He dances to Billy Idol. He becomes the Liam Neeson to McGregor's burgeoning Jedi (anyone? anyone?). Jeff Bridges, with a little of The Dude in him, matches up well as Lyn's unconventional mentor.

McGregor seems lightweight compared to these two and maybe that's just because he's the sraight man but maybe it also summarizes the film's issues. He travels to Iraq to make a difference and to find a purpose for his life but you never really sense either of these things happening. He just rolls along, the reporter telling the story detail by detail, anecdotal, but without personal investment. Likewise Spacey's villainous Hooper (and Spacey does just what he is supposed to do) is merely the guy who turns up when the story necessitates someone to twirl his moustache and cackle with glee. The conclusion could have been as touching as it is outlandish but it's as light as the eagle feather Django presents to Lyn for being such an outstanding Jedi.

The movie opens with the disclaimer that "more of this is true than you would think" and there are definitely a lot of unique ideas contained within which is why as it ends you feel just like you have finished reading a magazine article on the subject. "Hey, this seems really interesting but I'd like to know so much more about it. Maybe I'll go buy the book."


Anonymous said...

Completely unrelated but what do you think about the rumor that Rachel McAdams will possibly take on the Felicia Hardy/Black Cat character in Spider-Man 4?

Nick Prigge said...

Well, I should establish up front that I have little-to-no knowledge of the “Spiderman” universe but after doing some “diligent” research on Wikipedia I see this Felicia Hardy is the cat burglar ex of the venerable hero. Her backstory sounds interesting too, and kinda dark which I hope they would actually play up in the film though it’s doubtful since I’m sure it would have to be PG-13. All this said, oh yeah, Rachel McAdams could totally do it. I can easily imagine her in that get-up – at least the get-up in the photo that accompanies the Wikipedia entry. Plus, there would be witty repartee with her and Spiderman, right? She’d be all over it. Rachel McAdams can do anything.

The one worry is that the film would give her role the shaft like they did with the villains and Bryce Dallas Howard in “Spiderman 3”. But that wouldn’t be her fault. On the heels of “Sherlock Holmes” it would be a solid career move. She’s ready for it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your opinion. There is definitely a lot of potential for the Felicia Hardy character as she is a substantial character in the comic books especially if they start writing out Kirsten Dunst Mary Jane. Also Sam Raimi is not going to botch a character like a Michael Bay would.

I was asking because I know back in the days, you were against her taking on roles like Pepper Potts, Rachel Dawes and what not, but she is clearly a bit more established now so I wanted to see if you changed your opinion :) Spider-Man 4 will come out after "Morning Glory" so it won't be on the heels of Sherlock Holmes ;)