From the advertisements and the basic concept of the film, I expected The Men Who Stare at Goats to have humor that was somewhere between the Coen Brothers and Catch 22. What I didn’t anticipate was the amount of empathy that a film like this would still be able to generate for the characters involved. Somehow the type of satirical humor that is paired with political and military criticism, most famously seen in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, is filled with unsympathetic characters. The Men Who Stare at Goats somehow has a hopeful feeling, if only because of the committed performances by the lead actors.
Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is an unsuccessful newspaperman from
Ann Arbor, attempting to cover the war in when he accidentally stumbles into a completely different story. After interviewing a seemingly unreliable source about the New Earth Army, a group of secret super-soldiers attempting to use the methods of acidhead Iraq Vietnam veteran Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), dismisses this as false. When he comes across one of the men purported to be a former member of the New Earth Army in Wilton Kuwait, is forced to reassess his opinion. Wilton
Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) seems just as unreliable, but
Wilton sees his opportunity to get into and follows the crackpot former secret super-soldier into the dangerous desert. Along the way they face inevitable obstacles, each of which Cassady attempts to resolve with the use of his supernatural abilities. Iraq begins to realize what a big mistake he has made, refusing to believe Cassady’s story could be true. As they journey, Cassady tells Wilton about the earlier years after Vietnam when he was in the New Earth Army, and how Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) sabotaged the program by going to ‘the dark side.’ Wilton
The film begins with a caption that informs the audience that more of the story is true than you might expect. This is a loose way of allowing the audience to enjoy the film as a semi-fantasy about the ludicrous nature of the military. As lighthearted as the material is handled, the straightforward performances by the actors make this film surprisingly touching at points. It is based on Jon Ronson’s non-fiction bestseller, though there is a little more fun to be had in Peter Straughan’s screenplay.